NY farmers with soggy fields could get a break

7/14/2013 10:15 AM
By Associated Press

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (AP) — Some upstate New York farmers waiting on the sidelines because the mud is too thick for them to operate harvest machinery might get a break this week.

Mid-July is usually prime time for farmers to make their second cutting of hay, which milking cows need in their diet. But the Watertown Daily Times reports that puddles of water have sat on many northern New York for weeks amid heavy rains.

"When you get 1.3 inches of rain, and then another 1.3 in five days, gravity can't keep up for the rain to run through the soil," said dairy farmer Han VanDerVeeken of his land in Pamelia. "Water runs down to the low spots, and the heavy-textured clay soil here takes longer for rain to drain."

The newspaper reports that this week could be a fortuitous time for northern New York farmers who have waited for a three-day window of rainless weather to harvest dry hay. The National Weather Service has predicted a stretch of dry weather through Wednesday, which could provide enough time for farmers to get the job done.

But Michael Hunter, field crops educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County, is only cautiously optimistic about the forecast. Wet soil still could make it difficult to operate machinery in fields without creating ruts, he said. And even a small amount of rain could be enough to make new puddles.

"Last summer, because of the dry spell, farms could have handled a lot of rain because soil was so dry," Hunter told the newspaper. "But now it's like there's a glass that's almost full. It can overflow with a quarter-inch of rain."

Hunter said that in some other areas of the state, airplanes have been used to spray fertilizer and pesticide on fields because they're too wet to operate ground equipment on.

Standing water also has affected corn and soybean fields by cutting off the oxygen supply to plants and depleting nitrogen levels in the soil, Hunter said. Many farmers have been compelled to fertilize their fields for a second time with nitrogen, an expensive task that costs about $30 to $35 per acre.

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