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Md. farmers working round the clock to beat unusual weather patterns

(Photo submitted by Aaron Cooper)

(Photo submitted by Aaron Cooper)

May marked one of the rainiest months on record in Maryland, including a 15-day period where there was at least a drizzle a day. While rain is critical for agriculture, frequent periods of rain have made it difficult for some of the state’s farmers to plant their crops when they normally would.

“It has been difficult, we’re trying to get things done around the clock,” said Aaron Cooper, owner of Cutfresh Organics in Eden.

As an organic farmer, Cooper plants his crops later in the year than his non-organic counterparts, who are looking at planting corn in June, which is considered late.

Lester Dietz, packing house manager at Baugher’s Orchards & Farm in Westminster, said, “The weather is always unpredictable. That’s why there’s no planning for this kind of business. You’re never going to have perfect growing conditions.”

Delayed planting is the biggest issue caused by the rain. At the same time, crops that were already planted are growing at a slower rate, said David Martin, educator at the University of Maryland Extension.

Corn, soybeans, wheat, barley and hay for livestock are among the hardest hit, said Martin.

“We’ve had instances (in the past) where we’ve had periods, in May especially, where we delay planting. But this year has been significant as much as any other time in the past 30 years,” he said.

In its weekly report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said many Maryland farmers have delayed corn planting.

While Cooper is not too worried about delays, he has another problem: disease.

“In general, I’ve seen every kind of disease out there,” said Cooper. He has seen high quantities of toxins show up in wheat, making it unsuitable for human consumption. Cooper is trying to get into the specialty flour market, though right now 90 percent of the wheat from his farm is used as organic chicken feed.

Small grains, including barley and wheat, are particularly susceptible to different diseases in overcast and rainy conditions. Grasses for hay need three to five days to dry out, a window that didn’t emerge in May.

Stripe rust and mildew have been particularly common this year because rain and flowering wheat plants create a sweet spot for leaf diseases to strike. Those diseases can be controlled with pesticides, but there isn’t a lot Cooper can do.

“I don’t look at the disease too much, because there’s nothing I can do about it anyways.”

It’s too early to tell if the period of bad weather will result in any revenue losses, particularly because it’s unknown what the rest of the growing season will be like with respect to droughts and hurricanes.

Dietz doesn’t expect any financial losses from the planting delays, though Braugher’s lost a lot of its sweet cherry crops during the bout of cold weather in April. A delayed strawberry bloom period could result in a longer season and make up for berries lost in the April frost, the USDA said last week.

Most Maryland farms are seeing delays of between one and two weeks in their growing seasons, which normally causes some yield reductions. Delays in corn planting past May 15 can cause reductions, said Martin.

“As a bottom line, it might, it has the potential to do that,” said Martin.

The only loss Cooper is expecting this year is sleep.

With limited windows of sunshine, farmers have had to work overtime to get the planting done.

Dietz is confident the Westminster farm will get back on track.

“Every time you get a break in the weather it’s all hands on deck,” said Dietz. “We like to have everything planted by the first part of July, and we will. We’ll get it done.”