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Not-for-Profit, Award-Winning Community News and Views for Windham County, Vermont • Since 2006

Despite rainy spring, growing season is on schedule

BRATTLEBORO—It could be a lot worse, but despite a rainier than normal spring, the growing season in Windham County appears to be on schedule.

That’s the assessment from Vern Grubinger, a vegetable and berry specialist for the University of Vermont Extension and coordinator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program.

“In many years, things equal out over the season with ups and downs, especially on diversified farms,” he said.

Grubinger said that things have been “delayed a bit, but all is not lost. Some sun and heat will help make up for lost growing time and damage to some crop quality.”

“Even farms that specialize, as with hay or corn, the overall growing season may end up being kokay,” Grubinger said.

Elizabeth Wood, who is in her 10th season running New Leaf CSA in Dummerston, said Saturday that some parts of her farm have been soggy but that “we’ve been getting a decent amount of vegetables for early in the season.”

Windham County did not see as much rain or flooding as northern Vermont saw in April and May, Grubinger said, but the area did get significantly more rain than usual.

According to data from the National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y., 22.17 inches of precipitation fell on our region from the beginning of January through mid-June. That’s roughly six inches more than the norm for the first six months of an average year.

Fortunately for area farmers, the soil composition of Windham County worked in their favor.

“We are lucky in this area not to have heavy clay, like Addison County, that takes a long time to drain,” he said.

Grubinger said that while there is always fluctuation in the weather, some long-term trends are becoming apparent, namely “more volatility in precipitation and higher average annual temperatures.”

He cites data from the University of New Hampshire that found that the Northeast’s average annual temperature increased by 1.8 degrees F. from 1899 to 2000, that the Northeast frost-free growing season is eight days longer than it was 100 years ago, and that the number of extreme precipitation events (more than 2 inches of rain in 48 hours) has increased from about three, to five per year.

How does all translate into farming?

Grubinger said that pumpkin and squash growers have seen higher yields, and late-season berry growers are harvesting fruit that in past years would have lost to frost.

But Grubinger said studies have shown that a warmer, wetter Vermont could lead to declines in milk production, lower fruit yields in apple orchards, less healthy sugar maples and more growing difficulty for vegetables that prefer cooler weather, such as potatoes and crucifers.

Pests, weeds and crop diseases will be a bigger problem too, he said, adding that the ultimate effect of all these factors on area farmers will depend upon “what they produce, where they’re located, and the extent of the changes.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #106 (Wednesday, June 22, 2011).

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