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North Country farmers doing okay despite dry summer

Wayne Ouimette, field hand at Rulfs Orchard, said the effects of the hot, dry summer can be  seen on many of the farm’s crops.

Wayne Ouimette, field hand at Rulfs Orchard, said the effects of the hot, dry summer can be seen on many of the farm’s crops. Photo by Shaun Kittle.

NORTH COUNTRY — Recent rains have brought relief to local farmers, who are persevering despite the dry summer.

In recent weeks, the national media have reported that the drought affecting more than 60 percent of the nation has severely damaged crops.

The dry conditions, which are the worst the country has seen in half a century, are expected to cause food prices to skyrocket next year.

But in the North Country, things aren’t looking too bad.

Data collected by the Burlington National Weather Service show that rainfall in the Champlain Valley has only been about 2 inches below average.

Similarly, Lake Champlain, whose average summertime level is 95.2 feet, is at about 94.5 feet, only half an inch below the norm and well above the all-time low of 92.61 feet.

Local farmers agree that this year’s growing season has been trying, but not so much that it will raise the price of local produce.

Fruits and vegetables have been impacted, but good crop management has kept the fatality rate low.

Darcy Pray, general partner of Pray’s Family Farm in Keeseville, has been farming for 28 years.

He said that maintenance of the farm’s 100 acres has relied on using irrigation to make up for the depleted water table.

“There are three different irrigation systems that I use, but it’s not like natural rain,” Pray said.

Pray has faced some difficulties this summer. Having to pump water 12-14 hours a day overburdened some of his equipment, which resulted in an irrigation motor and pump breaking down.

The frequent hot days have also forced the farm’s pumpkins to mature extremely fast, and now Pray must decide whether to pick them now or see if the stems can hold out until the Halloween pumpkin-picking season.

Despite the hurdles, Pray said it would take a disaster, like a major flood, to cause prices to go up next year.

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