November 16, 2009

A Bad Year for Northeast Farms
The NYT has the lousy news for local farmers:
Plagued with inclement weather, disease and complications from both, farms throughout Connecticut, New Jersey and New York generally suffered one of the worst, if not the worst, growing season in memory. By the time the heat and sun finally arrived, in August, mid- to late-season fruits, especially blueberries, cranberries and apples, swollen by the rains, were the only crops that benefited. Mr. Botticello estimated his overall crop loss this year at about 45 percent.

It takes a 30 percent loss of any single crop in a county to trigger a disaster request from the federal Farm Service Agency office in an affected state. Losses are still being tallied, but most counties in New York and New Jersey have been declared agricultural disaster areas, and Connecticut is awaiting word from the federal government on the same declaration for nearly all of its counties.

"This year is one of our exceptionally bad years," said Marsha Jette, who has been with the agency for 39 years, becoming Connecticut executive director this year. In 2008 Connecticut’s farm cash receipts totaled $600 million, New York's were $4.7 billion, and New Jersey's were $1.1 billion. All are expected to be substantially lower this year.

The rain and chilly weather that began in May never let up until mid-July. Rainfall totals reported by the National Weather Service for the region's airports were generally twice the monthly average, sometimes three times the average -- like the more than 11 inches that fell on Bradley airport in Windsor Locks, Conn., in July. Some areas also suffered from hailstorms and the occasional tornado. The effects cascaded so that when the weather finally stabilized, most farms did not have enough time to recover. Even a later-than-usual frost did not help.

The bummer is that heavier precipitation in the northeastern US may become the norm thanks to climate change. So, while the growing season extends due to warmer temperatures, the risks of molds and rots get higher, too. And the increase in extreme weather means hail and tornadoes may become routine as well. I guess *not* addressing climate change is worse than the alternative after all.

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