While I usually look forward to May and the greening up and drying out that occurs, this year has seen record rainfalls that have saturated the pastures and fields.
Because last year warmed up so quickly in April, it makes this cold and wet beginning to the month seem so out of the ordinary. Pastures that were green and dry in April last year have still not dried out. Traveling around the county during the past couple of weeks was a depressing sight. Many fields were flooded with standing water and even fields with tile drainage were saturated. This week's sunny weather has started drying things out, but I imagine it will take more than a few days.
According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, this growing season's precipitation is already 4.45 inches more than normal. Although preliminary planting intentions were reported to indicate increased plantings of corn, soybeans, barley, wheat and dry hay, as of May 8 most Clinton County farmers have been unable to begin planting. Normally, small grains and alfalfa/grass plantings can be done in April and early May followed by corn and soybeans as the ground warms up.
The recent weather will make it much more difficult for local farmers to get their crops planted on schedule. In an article by Miner Institute Agronomist Ev Thomas in the May 2011 Farm Report, he suggests that farmers should wait on forage seedings in order to finish corn planting by June 1. Thomas also says that when the time is right, getting your corn planted should be a priority.
Because our growing season is relatively short, crops that are late in being planted may have lower yields than expected. With the price of grains like corn and soybeans at record highs, many farmers reportedly planned to increase acreage of corn planting to reduce their need for purchased grains. While it may seem odd, Clinton County farms have, on average, some of the highest corn yields in New York State.
Fields with drainage tile systems have enabled farms in the Champlain Valley to plant earlier using higher-yielding varieties. Switching to shorter-season varieties of corn and soybeans may have an adverse affect on yields.
Other farmers have also been affected by the weather. Pastures are starting to look good, but conditions are too wet to put animals on most pastures. Livestock producers would be wise to limit access to pastures until they dry out to avoid risking pasture damage.
Vegetable growers have also been delayed in planting, but one farm reports planting their first sweet corn during this week's sunny weather. The sunny days and warming temperatures are sure to help give most growers an opportunity to get early season crops in the ground. Local orchards were also affected by the rains with several apple-scab infection events in the past couple of weeks.
Clinton County has a wide variety of agricultural enterprises and they are all affected in some way by the weather. Any farmer growing crops, grazing livestock, milking cows or tending apple trees worries about the affect the weather will have on their business.
A wet spring, dry summer, frosty fall or frigid winter can all jeopardize years of hard work. Here's hoping that this summer will bring sun often, rain when we need it and better times for all.
Peter Hagar, agriculture program educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension Clinton County, 6064 Rt. 22, Plattsburgh, 12901. Call 561-7450.