Rains too much for crops to handle
Kim Lewers grabbed a strawberry from one of her plots at a USDA research facility in Beltsville, Md., where she works and held it for a reporter.
“You see this here?” she said on April 5, cradling a berry with split flesh, part of a research trial to improve the fruit’s shelf life. “That’s more of that cracking. You see how the whole berry has deteriorated?”
She tossed it away from the plot.
Lewers, a USDA research geneticist, was just another farmer whose work got harder last month when the skies dumped record rain across the region, damaging crops and disrupting planting and harvest schedules.
More than 7.6 inches fell in Maryland on average in May — a record — with some areas of the state experiencing more extreme precipitation. Up to 15 inches fell across Central Maryland, most notably in Howard and Carroll counties, according to the National Weather Service.
It was the same story across much of the Mid-Atlantic. A recent USDA crop report said more than half of Virginia’s farmland has surplus moisture, and some areas, such as Madison and Orange counties, had corn and soybean fields washed out by flooding along low-lying riverbanks, the Virginia Farm Bureau said.
Before the rain, Virginia farmers were expecting an excellent wheat crop, 23 percent larger than in 2017.
“It’s not at risk yet, but if we keep on getting rain like we did, it’s going to ruin the wheat crop,” Allen Welch, a Lancaster County grower, told the Farm Bureau.
In Howard County, Md., Gorman Farm hung a sign at its entrance saying the farm was out of strawberries for the year.
It posted a note on Facebook.
“Each time it rained, we thought it was over, we held on as long as we could,” the note read. “That tender fruit can only handle so much water.”
Lewers, whose entire career is dedicated to the crop, said she was sympathetic.
“So, the way that it’s affecting growers is that they’re getting so many split berries that they’re physically damaged to the point where nobody wants to buy them, and on top of that, many of them have very low sugar because of all that rain,” Lewers said.
The rain wasn’t the only problem at Fifer Orchards in Camden, Del., said Mike Fennemore, a co-owner. Hail right before Mother’s Day damaged a significant number of the farm’s berries spread across about 20 acres, he said.
“It was just a freak two minutes,” Fennemore said. “I think because the winds were so high, it was just a shotgun affect.”
The rain also kept pollinators away from the crops this spring, which wasn’t ideal, he said.
The farm has also struggled to access its fields to plant summer sweet corn and pumpkins, a common problem for many farmers in the region. T.S. Smith & Sons in Bridgeville, Del., was unable to plant its sweet corn in sequence, which will also disrupt its summer harvest, said owner Charlie Smith. He said the rain “drowned out quite a bit of acreage in the low areas.”
About 25 acres of string beans were planted the day before heavy rain began, he said. The entire planting was lost.
In addition to strawberries, high-tunnel crops such as tomatoes have also been affected, said Ben Beale, a University of Maryland Extension agent in St. Mary’s County.
“We’re about a week and a half to two weeks behind in harvesting,” he said, adding that crop quality generally remained good.
An entire pea crop was washed out at Baugher’s Orchard and Farm in Westminster, Md., Marjorie Baugher said.
The popular farm’s cantelopes, watermelon and tomatoes all went into the ground about 10 days late as well.
“I know (customers) aren’t going to understand when it comes to the harvest in mid-July,” she said. “It’s kind of a muddy mess. We’re very off on our timing this year.”
Smith said he was still evaluating what the crop losses will end up costing the farm.
“It’s just the way farming is,” he said. “Sometimes too much water’s worse than not enough.”
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925