Some Valley farmers feeling impact of dry conditions

·5 min read

Aug. 28—Abnormally dry weather conditions during this summer's June-August growing season will likely affect this year's crop of grains and fall fruits production, said local farmers and agricultural experts contacted by The Daily Item.

This July was Pennsylvania's 24th driest in 128 years and its 103rd in terms of maximum temperature, averaging 84°F for the daily highs, said Nicole Santangelo Thompson, Penn State Cooperative Extension agronomy educator.

Drought and its effects are often factors in growing corn in Pennsylvania.

"This was not a good year to be farming," said Will Haupt, who recently retired from working his Irish Valley farm, where he grew grains such as corn.

"I'm happy to be retired," he said. "In my farm, the early crops, like barley, wheat did really well. But now, with the dry weather, corn ... They are all really struggling."

Haupts did have an irrigation system when he was farming. "But the current owners are not using that now," he said.

Northumberland farmer Karl Schlegel, who primarily grows apples in his orchard just outside of Sunbury, had a tough start to the season, he said. "The late freeze will have probably affected maybe 40 percent of our apple crop."

And later, the drought didn't make things much better, "but lately, the little bit of rain we have had. About two inches in the last few weeks, did help," Schlegel said. "And we do have an irrigation system."

Drought stress

Aron Glick, who grows field corn outside of Beaver Springs, said the drought came at one of the worst times of the year, in July.

"Drought stress causes premature death of leaf tissue and stunts the growth of corn," he said. "We might be seeing fewer kernels and light kernels.

"I can't really talk about the final yield. I'll have to assess the situation before I can make a prediction."

According to data provided by NOAA, Most of Union County is considered to be in a moderate drought (D1). Snyder, Northumberland, and Montour counties, along with the parts of Union not in moderate drought, are categorized at abnormally dry status (D0).

According to the National Drought Mitigation Center in Nebraska, the impact of D0 levels of dryness can stunt plant grown, turn lawns brown early and elevate fire danger. For areas with D1 status, hay and grain yields are negatively impacted, honey production declines, wildfires and ground fires increase and trees, landscaping and fish are stressed.

"We're not in very good shape," said Daniela Carrijo, Penn State University assistant professor, extension, grain production. "Especially compared to how we started. We had a very wet spring.

"Some early seed planting in October was delayed because farmers couldn't get into the fields. It was too wet, and a little bit on the cold side too."

But still, this area was doing good, she said. "Until the drought weather came. I think a lot of fields were affected. The drought happened just at the time when corn plants are pollinating.

"That's the most susceptible time to drought stress," Carrijo said. Different parts of corn ear, the bottom kernels, are not pollinated because just about the time when the silk from those top kernels come out, there isn't any pollen anymore.

With some rain it got a little better, she said, "but there was no way to compensate for poor pollination, in some cases. The conditions were spotty. There were some places in Pennsylvania, such as in the southeast part of the state, where things were a little bit better for crops, compared to here in Central Pennsylvania."

The northern tier, such as in Tioga County, which has been in near drought conditions, is experiencing drought stress.

"Central Pennsylvania is worse than in the west or in the very southeast," she said. "But I think everybody has been affected by the drought condition."

Having an irrigation system helps, Carrijo said.

"In Central Pennsylvania, sweet corn growers may have irrigation systems, but field corn growers mostly do not and are pretty much all rain-fed," she said.

For corn to be in the best condition, it needs sunlight and well-distributed intermittent to moderate rain or irrigation. That would mean 15 or more inches during the growing season, according to Eco Farming Daily, a farming, ranching and growing website built and managed by research experts at ACRES U.S.A.

According to AccuWeather meteorologist Nicole LoBiondo the Valley had "about 2 inches of rainfall this month. Normally in August there would be 3.7 inches. In June, it was 3.8 inches; normal rainfall is 4.38 inches. July was the driest month, LoBiondo said, with 1.46 inches, 34 percent of the Valley's normal precipitation of 4.29 inches.

This year's yield"At this point of the year, it's been difficult to tell exactly know how much crop production has been affected by the weather," said William Wisler, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

"Some farmers were late planting this year due to rain and some other factors and different parts of the state that have been dryer than others may notice a difference in their harvest, but not necessarily something too abnormal," he said.

Other farmers may have had difficulty buying or even finding fertilizer to buy in the spring and that could have an impact on production as well as any weather events, Wisler said.

"While it's been dry at times this summer, we are not technically in a drought in Pennsylvania," Wisler said. "The northern central part of the state has been the most impacted by the lack of rain, but we are not in an official drought at this time."

As far as the impact on harvest this year related to the weather, it may be a little bit too early to tell what the difference may be for some farmers, depending on where they are located, Wisler said.