Dry weather troublesome for local farms

The lack of rain is drying out north country corn crops, such as this one on North Community Drive in the town of Rutland. Photo by Amanda Morrison, Watertown Daily Times.

The lack of rain is drying out north country corn crops, such as this one on North Community Drive in the town of Rutland. Photo by Amanda Morrison, Watertown Daily Times.

Year to year, north country farmers expect hot spells and dry weather, but not enough that it would severely affect crops.

This year, however, weeks without precipitation have a few farmers concerned that a summer far drier than usual will affect harvesting later in the year.

Ronald C. Robbins, owner of North Harbor Dairy in the town of Hounsfield, said he’s never experienced dry weather as bad this year’s.

“I’ve always prided myself on being able to understand weather patterns,” Mr. Robbins said. “This year, it’s just got me totally confused.”

Mr. Robbins said he has waited weeks for rain, and if it doesn’t come soon, his corn could be in trouble. He noted that this time of year is a critical pollination phase for corn growth. If the corn is under stress during this period, it could significantly reduce yield. Mr. Robbins said he could be looking at a 25 to 30 percent change in yield if conditions don’t change soon.

The dry weather has even had an effect on the work itself. Mr. Robbins said it’s normal for him and employees to work many days in a row tending to crops when in the right condition. This year, they haven’t been able to work a full day.

According to National Weather Service officials based in Buffalo, drought conditions have been especially apparent this year due to lack of rainfall caused by Lake Ontario temperatures.

Douglas Shelmidine, owner of Sheland Farms in the town of Ellisburg, also said conditions are more critical this year. He said it will lower yields from his corn production, but he’s not sure how much will be lost.

“Typically, most years will have some period of scare, weather wise,” he said. “It is significantly more so this year.”

Mr. Shelmidine’s farm doesn’t have the ability to irrigate to make up for lost moisture. However, he said he’s optimistic that conditions will change for the better.

“There is a lot of growing season left,” he said. “I don’t think many plants have died at this point, and there is always a chance for recovery.”

The state Department of Environmental Conservation on Friday issued a statewide drought watch following consultation with the State Drought Management Task Force and other federal agencies.

Precipitation has been less than normal with shortfalls of four to eight inches over the last 90 days. Homeowners are encouraged to save water and raise lawn mower cut height as longer grass needs less water.

By Brian Molongoski, Watertown Daily Times