October 23, 2021

Farmers report dismal crops amid moderate drought

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

Caleb Bean of Cortlandville pats one of his cattle Wednesday as they graze in a pasture on his farm near McGraw. September was so dry that after just one day in the field, the greenery had been grazed enough to merit moving the herd, Bean said.

Rule of thumb when you put cattle to pasture: If you can see their hooves, move them. Let the pasture recover and grow a bit.

You could see the hooves Wednesday at Caleb Bean’s just outside McGraw. The cattle had been there less than a day — that’s how dry it was.

“We haven’t had any substantial rain all summer,” Bean said.

The county did see 1.34 inches of rain Tuesday, just about quadrupling the amount of rain it saw for the month beforehand. But that’s a long time for fields to go dry and 1.77 inches of rain for the month is about half what the National Weather Service says is typical for the greater Cortland area.

Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District Manager Amanda Barber said Cortland County was in a moderate drought, “but returned to normal/abnormally dry the past couple of weeks.” However, the National Weather Service changed its designation this morning, and the region is back in a moderate drought.

Still, Bean said he isn’t the only farmer whose hay and corn crops have been affected by the lack of rain this season.

“It’s been so bone dry nothing is growing,” Bean said.

Bean said he normally cuts hay mid-to-late May and then 30 to 45 days after that. Normally he would get three to four bales of hay per acre, but for his second and third rounds hay cuttings this year he’s gotten around 1 * to two bales — and he’s already supplementing his pastures with hay he’s already cut.

He said it’s definitely not good for business.

“I sell a lot of hay to dairy farmers,” he said, including doing customer orders for some dairy businesses. “This year has really been tough.”

He said he even had to buy hay from someone else to make sure all his orders were met. But it’s not just the hay.

The dry weather cut into the farm’s sweet corn crop, with the first variety of crop being a total loss this year. “The cornfield looks like a grass field,” he said, although some varieties did OK, depending on the timing of their planting. “A lot of it didn’t get more than 2 feet tall.”

The losses cost him thousands of dollars.

However, he did note that the corn used to feed his 100 beef cows did well.

Barber also said in an email that the aquifer levels are low, but that the levels were not unprecedented. However, Barber checked a bedrock well in the McGraw-Solon area that is used for monitoring purposes and noticed the levels had reached “an all-time low alarmingly low.”

It’s too early to tell how much the rain this week might affect groundwater levels.

“It will probably restore stream flow in some areas,” she said, and restore some moisture to the ground. That may help green things up before the season really changes and winter hits.

“I wouldn’t put my lawn mower away just yet,” she said. “You never know what Mother Nature has in store.”