October 23, 2021

Growers feeling the heat

A dry June causes woes for gardeners, farmers

Sam Feeley/sports reporter

Mike McMahon of E-Z Acres Farm in Homer inspects his corn field Wednesday. McMahon said a dry month with less than an inch of rain — has hampered his corn, alfalfa and wheat crops.

Even with Tuesday night’s showers and a quickly evaporated cloudburst on Thursday, June has been an abnormally dry month for Cortland County.

You can see it in the lawns going brown, the gardeners taking a hose to the veggies and the lower-than-normal creeks and rivers.

According to the National Weather Service, the average monthly precipitation for June is 3.31 inches for Syracuse and 4.31 inches for Binghamton, the two closest reading sites to Cortland.

This June, however, the region has barely cracked a tenth of that, even with the 0.09 inches that fell in a shower Thursday evening.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has issued a fire danger warning.

“It is dry and that fact is reflected in both local stream flow and groundwater levels,” said Amanda Barber, manager of the Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District. “Flow in both the Tioughnioga and Otselic rivers is well below average, and more what we would expect to see in late August or early September.”

The lack of rainfall leads to a domino effect for gardeners and farmers, particularly the advancement of pests and invasive species.

“Invasive species are often more competitive during drought conditions, and will use this weather to their advantage, taking over areas and out-competing native species,” Barber said.

“Gardening, especially in raised beds and containers, requires diligence in watering and watching for pests,” she added. “Slugs will be drawn to any moist areas, especially our gardens, and can wreak havoc. Water in the morning when it is cooler and there is less evaporation. Plants will be dry by evening and less vulnerable to diseases that thrive in moist conditions. Weeds will grow undeterred by the dry weather, robbing your garden plants of both moisture and nutrients. Mulching can help to preserve soil moisture and suppress weeds. Pests are always attracted to less vigorous and already stressed plants.”

Crops are especially vulnerable to drought conditions, given the late spring.

Mike McMahon, owner of E-Z Acres in Homer, has seen the effects of the dry weather on a variety of his crops.

“We’re looking at next week starting our second cutting of alfalfa, and walking through the fields I can tell you it’s going to be real light,” McMahon said. “The corn needs a drink, we’re starting to see some yellowing on it.”

To complicate matters, E-Z Acres and other dairy farms in the Northeast typically don’t irrigate or manually water crops — they rely on natural rainfall.

“Without the rain it’s going to be more expensive to operate,” McMahon said. “Our wheat crop is also short. The grain is going to be fine, but the straw that we depend on is very short. Normally the wheat would be 6 inches taller than it is right now. The result of all this is that we’re going to buy wheat straw and corn because we don’t have enough.”

“From an agriculture perspective, late planted seedings are more vulnerable to drought stress, which in turn increases their vulnerability to damage from insect pests,” Barber said. “This dry weather will also impact the yields farms will expect from second cuttings of hay crops. It remains to be seen the impact current weather may have on corn and soybean crops.”

Despite this, Barber said, “We are, according to NYSDEC, experiencing normal conditions and are not currently even in a drought watch.”