Northeast dairy farmers challenged by rainy, cool spring
RICHMOND, VT - Following dry and drought conditions last summer, Northeast farmers are facing the opposite challenge: a rainy, cool spring that has delayed the planting of corn and other crops and the cutting of hay for livestock feed.
The wet conditions in previous weeks had prevented them from driving equipment onto fields to plant crops or cut hay, which means some dairy farmers may need to buy supplemental feed for their cows. The weather, however, has been a boon for crops like peaches and apples.
"In some ways we're looking at the prospect of potentially having to supplement more than a normal year," said Ransom Conant, of Conant's Riverside Farm, on Tuesday before he headed out to cut an overly mature alfalfa and grass crop that had already flowered or gone to seed.
New Hampshire farmers are facing similar challenges, following a year in which a long-running drought prompted the state legislature to pass a measure providing $2 million in emergency funding for the dairy farmers hurt by the dry conditions. Some farmers were forced to reduce their herds to save money.
"Well, the drought is over. But the pendulum has swung a little too far," Lorraine Merrill, the New Hampshire agricultural commissioner, said. "We did not need all this rain or the cool temperatures that have prevailed through much of the spring season. I think the dairy and other livestock farmers have had the worst impacts."
Farmers in New Hampshire reported having trouble getting equipment into their fields and were keeping warm weather crops in greenhouse longer before they were being transferred outdoors.
"Usually farms like to have corn planted by around May 20 or so. But there is still ground, a lot of it, that has not been planted ... maybe 20-25 percent of the acreage," Carl Majewski, a field specialist with UNH Cooperative Extension, told the Concord Monitor last week. "It's not very often that you have a delay like this."
But as the weather warms, conditions are improving. The U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service concluded last week that hay fields in New York have started to finally dry out and farmers worked around wet, rutted areas, the service said.
Vermont dairy farmer Rosina Wallace acknowledged things are looking up as she lamented that the wet spring kept her from spreading manure on her hay crop, which she said won't be as good as it could be. She likely will need to buy hay again in March and April.
"You can't make any money when you don't have any profit because you've got to spend it all on feed," she said.
Still, her hay crop is looking better than her cow pastures, which didn't get much regrowth during the cool wet spring.
"The cows were eating it faster than the grass was growing. And now it's so darned hot, everything is dormant. Right now, I think I'm hurting worse in terms of not having good pasture than I am in terms of my hay," she said.
AP reporter Michael Casey contributed to this report from Concord, New Hampshire.