Jul 29, 2014
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Drought No Problem, Some Farmers Say

Some farmers prefer drought to last year's deluge of rain; others say it adds stress during busy season.

Drought No Problem, Some Farmers Say

Although some farmers in the Riverhead area say the recent severe drought conditions are the worst they've seen in 60 years, according to some, that's not necessarily bad news.

Farmers have to spend more on fuel, labor and irrigation but many agree dry weather, in the end, yields a more plentiful harvest.

"It is very dry, but from a farmer's perspective it's okay, as they prefer to control moisture from irrigation rather than the deluges we had last year," said Joseph Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau. "We cannot take water off, so from a quality control standpoint for crops, dry is better. It will cost farmers more time and money for labor and cost of fuel, but the results will be beautiful potatoes, fruit, wine, grapes and all of our other agricultural products." 

Phil Schmitt, of  Phillip A. Schmitt & Son Farms, said anything is better than last year's deluge of rain. Schmitt, who grows mostly green, leafy vegetables, including cabbage, lettuce, and spinach, as well as sweet corn, said the dry weather has not posed a problem so far.

"Would an inch of rain be nice? Yes, but after the mess we had last year, I'm afraid to ask for it, because we might get it," Schmitt said.

Lack of rain, he said, costs money. "But the situation we had last year was a disaster," he said. This season, despite temperatures drier than any in crops have been planted on time and irrigation can be used to effectively water the plants.

"Most of the lettuce in the country comes from the West Coast, in the desert," Schmitt said. "There's a reason for that."

But the weather has caused some new problems, said Noreen Ficuciello, garden center manager at Verderber's Garden Center in Aquebogue. Some farmers, she said, have told her that the dry weather is the most severe they have seen in 60 years.

"It means an added stress at a busy time of the year," she said. Traditionally, spring is busy, with digging of plant materials,  and now, irrigation, which usually doesn't emerge as an issue until the late summer months, is suddenly a concern.

Large irrigation pipes are needed, Ficuciello said, to help water plants that are already stressing due to the demands of the season. Workload is increased dramatically, she said. "It's pretty much around the clock, at an already busy time."

Ficuciello added, "We live in an area of extremes out here on the East End," citing last year's heavy rains and this year's dry temps. 

One upside to the dry weather is that retail spikes during warm temperatures. "It's been extremely busy," she said. "There are a lot of good signs showing us the economy might be doing better."

In addition, customers who lost trees during Hurricane Irene have been trying to replace them, Ficuciello said.

Also a plus is that the dry weather and warm temps mean the annuals will be brought in a month earlier than the usual May, Mother's Day deadline. 

One negative, she added, is that warmer temperatures have meant insects are more plentiful and an added chance of hurricanes later in the year. 

"Mother Nature is letting us know on a daily basis that she's the boss," Ficuciello said.

The hope, she added, is for some rain by weekend to mitigate fire dangers.

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