WATERTOWN — Farmers and local officials are seeking state and federal assistance for what could be an eventual shortage of crops and feed supplies due to excessive rain and cold weather.
Large amounts of precipitation throughout spring and early summer that, in part, caused widespread flooding along Lake Ontario also drenched farm fields across the north country and other areas.
The weather delayed crop planting, particular corn, by a few weeks and limited the number of seedlings farmers could plant, leaving many to expect lower crop tonnage than they projected, said Michael E. Hunter, a field crop specialist for the Cornell Cooperative Extension. The corn crop that has been planted is smaller than average. While hay crop yields overall remained unaffected, Mr. Hunter said the weather hurt the crops’ nutritional quality, forcing farmers to make up the shortfall in their cow feed with extra grain crops.
“There’s a serious concern that in the fall, we could have farms that are short on feed or might not be able to feed their animals adequately,” said Jay M. Matteson, agricultural coordinator for Jefferson County Economic Development. “It impacts more than just farmers. It affects agribusinesses as well.”
In order to raise awareness of the plight and possible safety nets, the Jefferson County Agriculture Development Council, an advisory council overseen by Mr. Matteson, decided Tuesday to send reports they hope will reach U.S. Secretary of Agriculture George E. “Sonny” Perdue III, state Department of Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Richard A. Ball and other officials. The council’s meeting on the issue drew not only farmers, but officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, state Comptroller’s Office, the Development Authority of the North Country, Cornell Cooperative Extension and Jefferson County.
Jefferson County Chairman Scott A. Gray and Administrator Robert F. Hagemann III, who were in attendance, said they have contacted the state agriculture department and plan to connect with the federal agriculture department via U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville. The state agriculture department “is looking for a report immediately,” Mr. Gray said.
“We’re here from the government to help,” Mr. Hagemann said.
Lost time for planting can affect feed supplies for dairy farmers’ cows, particularly for the following year, and force them to purchase more grain to supplement their loses.
In order have some corn available for future feed supplies, Mr. Hunter said producers planted seedlings in late June, but because soil conditions were still saturated and not ideal, they could face long-term consequences. Their corn seedlings may not extend their roots enough to better absorb moisture and nutrients during average, or drier weather periods, which Mr. Hunter said could reduce future yields. Producers and their equipment also caused some soil compaction, which can hurt soil health and, therefore, crop yield by reducing crops’ ability to gather nutrients.
Farmers, however, have a chance to boost their feed supply by planting alfalfa and grass in August.
“A lot of people didn’t plant new seeds of alfalfa or grass,” he said.
Farmer and officials also discussed whether the north country may need a federal disaster designation in the future, and laying the groundwork to ensure if one is needed, it could be granted as soon as possible.
Jefferson and Lewis counties received a disaster designation from USDA’s Farm Service Agency in 2016 when a regional drought diminished corn, alfalfa and hay crops. The designation can grant farmers access to emergency, low-interest loans and perhaps other resources said Glenn J. Bullock, executive director for Jefferson and Lewis County FSA offices. The local director has already informed other USDA officials that he has been monitoring the plight in preparation for seeking a possible designation, which triggers when an area experiences at least a 30 percent loss in a particular crop.
“We believe that will probably result in a disaster declaration,” Mr. Matteson said. “The likelihood that we have a 30 percent loss (in corn) is extremely high.”
Growers also wondered if they could convince the state to allocate some funding provided to shoreline communities for flood damage mitigation to support farmers whose lose crops. Mr. Gray said he plans to raise the issue during an upcoming meeting about the state’s $300 million Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative. The meeting for Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties will be held Friday.
“Is it that far-fetched to go to the governor’s office and say ‘We need help?’” said produce farmer Jay J. Canzonier, who owns North Branch Farms in Belleville.
Similar temperatures and rainfall patterns affected north country producers in 2017 and delayed their planting by a few weeks, but Mr. Hunter said conditions exhibited this year are far worse for growers.
“At the end of the day, 2017, it was rough, but I think 2019 can shape up to be a little bit rougher,” he said.
April 1 to May 31
Amount/difference from 15-year average
Talcottville 11.31 inches/+3.60 inches
Rodman 10.44 inches/+2.98 inches
Martinsburg 9.85 inches/+3.24 inches
Evans Mills 9.6 inches/ +2.44 inches
Carthage 9.46 inches/+2.28 inches
Antwerp8.39 inches/+1.24 inches
Gouverneur 7.91 inches/+0.22 inches
Hammond 8.05 inches/+0.30 inches
Ogdensburg8.67 inches/+0.81 inches
Canton9.26 inches/+1.73 inches