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Sun., Oct. 4
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Rain is a gloomy forecast for farmers and gardeners


A few rays of sun may be peeking through the end of what has been a long, wet tunnel for farmers, home gardeners and farmers markets.

Over the next two weeks, the probability of precipitation is less but still above average.

“It is getting better, but it’s not good,” said Kitty A. O’Neil, a field crops and soil specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County.

Across the north country, rain and overcast conditions have been typical.

Jefferson County took the brunt of the showers in June. According to figures provided by the Northeast Regional Climate Center, Watertown received 6.04 inches of rain for the third wettest June on record. It normally receives 2.84 inches. Conditions were slightly drier in Massena in St. Lawrence County and in Lowville in Lewis County, where each received 5.2 inches of rain, compared to a normal amount of 3.36 inches. For both of those areas, it was the 13th wettest June on record.

The rain has saturated soils and made it tough for farmers to plant, fertilize or spray their fields. Plants in any ground that is not well drained have suffered.

“Roots can’t hold their breath for very long,” said Paul J. Hetzler, an Extension educator. “Now, with all that rain, a lot of the nitrogen is going to get washed away.”

In her travels through St. Lawrence, Franklin, Clinton and Essex counties, Ms. O’Neil has seen some corn fields still unplanted.

“It’s very discouraging what’s going on out there,” she said.

Some farmers could still plant corn and chop what crop they get for silage, plant a shorter-season grass or other small grains, she said.

“It’s going to be a week after it stops raining before people will be able to get on their fields,” she said.

The hay crop is bountiful but a lot of farmers cannot harvest it.

“Every day it’s delayed, the protein level drops. The ground is so wet, if you cut it, it doesn’t dry out,” said Kevin D. Acres, Madrid, a dairy farmer and St. Lawrence County legislator. “The quality will be down. The quantity will be there.”

The hay is a little over-mature, which will make it harder for farmers to get through the winter, Ms. O’Neil said. Last year’s dry conditions made farmers dip into feed reserves sooner than they would have liked.

“The weather is causing problems which adds to problems we already had,” she said. “Two years in a row may be more than some people can take.”

Vegetable growers have issues of their own.

“The cool nights in early June made the beans, peppers and basil angry,” said Kerstin “Dulli” Tengeler, Birdsfoot Farm, Canton, an organic operation. “It’s a hard year for the warm-loving plants. Peas and greens, they love it.”

Some crops have rotted, the slugs are in high gear, and some plants have been slow to emerge, cutting into what is available at farmers markets. Heavy rain also discourages shoppers.

“I would say it has deterred people,” said Guy Drake, who sells perennials and annuals. “I carry rain gear with me now all the time.”

Mr. Drake said for the first time he recently skipped the Canton Farmers Market because of an all-day deluge.

“I wouldn’t expect my customers to go out in it,” he said.

Wet conditions can also lead to fungal diseases, such as the late blight which has decimated tomatoes in years past.

“I don’t want to be an alarmist about late blight, but these are perfect conditions for it,” Mr. Hetzler said.

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