DROUGHT and the Farmer

Climate change impacts us all, but the erratic weather it brings is especially hard on farmers, all over the world. Here in the Finger Lakes region of upstate NY, we are known for abundant water. So the recent dry spell with just 12% of the usual rain for the first two months of the growing season has been very tough. Wells and irrigation ponds have dried up, the grass has turned to “potato chip” texture, and our own three farms have been suffering.

EcoVillage irrigation pond runs dry.  Photo: Frank Muller

EcoVillage irrigation pond runs dry. Photo: Frank Muller

The following are excerpts from the last two CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) newsletters from West Haven Farm (on EVI land), written by Jen Bokaer-Smith.

June 28 and 29 CSA Newsletter

Here’s a little game: how many synonyms do you know for “dry”?  Maybe we should have a contest!  Also, how is it possible to be both dry and humid??  This is a combo we haven’t seen much since we started farming in 1992.  The irrigation pond is more like a mud puddle than a pond at this point, and the bull frogs are upset by the frog to water ratio.  We’re starting to see different kinds of birds around the pond— maybe some kind of kingfisher?  The eating is pretty good there, if you are a frog- or fish-eating bird.  Tomorrow John will call Bolton Point and make arrangements for them to put a huge water meter/backflow preventer on the fire hydrant outside the barn, so we can draw water from it.  We’ll stop pumping from the “pond” and pay the town to use municipal water for irrigation until it starts raining again and the pond can recharge.

July 5 and 6 CSA Newsletter.

I am sorry to complain about the weather part, but it really is bad.  We figured out that at our place we’ve had less than one inch of rain total in May and June–usually we get 6-8 inches during that period.  The deficit means that even with all of the watering we’re doing, the soil profile is profoundly dry very far down, so it’s taking more and more water to keep the soil wet.  Plus it’s been really windy, and that doesn’t help.  Last week I reported that John was going to get the town to open the hydrant in front of the barn so we could start using that water, now that the irrigation pond is a murky puddle.  Hooking up to town water requires a big backflow prevention device, to prevent messing up the integrity of the municipal water supply.  In previous droughts we’ve been able to borrow a backflow preventer from the town.  This time, it turns out lots of folks have the same idea—for example, the Ithaca City School District is watering sports fields—so there are no backflow preventers available from the town. Urgh.  If one isn’t returned to the town in the next few days we’re going to have to buy one ourselves.  Did we already say urgh?  This is like farming in California!  Except that we have winter.  At least we know here that at some point it’s bound to start raining again.

The crops are getting watered, and so they are growing.