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Farmers Spread Thin; Long Winter Means Later Start

  • Derick Senecal, a tractor operator for Murdo Limlaw, spreads liquid manure on a field in Piermont, N.H., on April 23, 2014. <br/>(Valley News- Sarah Priestap)<br/>

    Derick Senecal, a tractor operator for Murdo Limlaw, spreads liquid manure on a field in Piermont, N.H., on April 23, 2014.
    (Valley News- Sarah Priestap)
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Danielle Allen, co-owner of Your Farm in Fairlee, Vt., waters seedlings in a newly-built hoop house on the property on April 23, 2014. <br/>(Valley News- Sarah Priestap)<br/>

    Danielle Allen, co-owner of Your Farm in Fairlee, Vt., waters seedlings in a newly-built hoop house on the property on April 23, 2014.
    (Valley News- Sarah Priestap)
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Derick Senecal, a tractor operator for Murdo Limlaw, spreads liquid manure on a field in Piermont, N.H., on April 23, 2014. <br/>(Valley News- Sarah Priestap)<br/>
  • Danielle Allen, co-owner of Your Farm in Fairlee, Vt., waters seedlings in a newly-built hoop house on the property on April 23, 2014. <br/>(Valley News- Sarah Priestap)<br/>

West Lebanon — Now that spring has arrived, Upper Valley farmers are looking to the growing season ahead.

Just this week, dairy farmers began spreading manure and seeding hay fields, while the region’s vegetable and berry growers planted a few early crops such as peas, carrots and greens and brought equipment into working order.

Ted Putnam, a Claremont dairy farmer with 450 head of cattle, said he was hopeful for a successful year.

“Farmers up and down the valley need a good season,” he said.

Vern Grubinger, vegetable and berry specialist with the University of Vermont Extension, challenged the notion that growers hibernate during the cold months, saying it takes most of the winter to clean up from the previous season, order seeds and prepare for the year ahead.

By now, Grubinger said, fruit trees and bushes should be pruned, and employees lined up. He said most growers are testing soil samples to determine the types and quantities of nutrients to add to optimize plant growth and minimize runoff into waterways.

“It’s an exciting time of year,” he said.

Vegetable grower Danielle Allen, of Your Farm in Fairlee, began seeding such crops as peas, broccoli rabe and spinach this week.

She said her greenhouse is starting “to get really crowded” with plant starts readying for transplant when the risk of frost has passed.

Allen has her eye on May 3, the first Saturday of the Norwich Farmers Market, for the farm’s initial 2014 harvest, she said.

She hopes to have arugula, spinach and radishes by then, she said.

Fellow vegetable grower Wendy Palthey, of Tunbridge Hill Farm, said that after last year’s rain — more than 20 inches from June through August, compared with less than 10 for the same time period in 2012, according to Weather Underground — she “can deal with cold.”

“This is what I feel like (the weather) normally used to be,” said Palthey. “(We’ll) take what we can get (and) hope that there’s windows of opportunity.”

Palthey said though the five tillable acres on her hill farm tend to be relatively cool and wet, she planted lettuce, beets and carrots in the ground on Tuesday. Her small greenhouse is full of starts, and her cold frames are housing lettuce and onions, she said.

In addition to preparing fields and plants, Palthey said she and her husband are repairing equipment.

“(There’s) a lot to fix at this time of year, it seems,” she said.

At Partridge Farm, in North Haverhill, Mary Jones said the lambing season is winding down. She said chicks for pastured poultry will arrive soon and the piglets born in February will be out on pasture in the next few weeks.

Jones’ fields aren’t quite dry yet, but she said the piglets won’t mind.

“They love the mud,” she said.

Another project keeping Jones busy these days is collecting and incubating goose eggs. Her Pilgrim geese, a heritage breed, are spring layers only and will stop laying in June. She raises the geese for Christmas dinners and as breeding stock, she said.

Kris Hatch of Hatchland Farm, also in North Haverhill, said they are waiting for their fields to dry out and defrost before they can drive on them.

Because last year was so wet, Hatch said her family’s farm did not harvest as much hay and corn as usual, meaning that they are running lower than usual for this time of year.

“It’s going to be close, (but) we’ll make it,” she said.

Last summer’s damp weather soaked fields and the fog that came with the rain carried a blight, which destroyed some of the Hatchs’ corn, she said.

In hopes of avoiding that fate this year, the Hatchs have purchased blight-resistant seed, said Hatch.

Jeff McNamara of McNamara Dairy said he began spreading manure on his riverfront fields in Plainfield on Tuesday. He said he plans to plant corn in about two weeks.

McNamara said this year’s start is about a week and a half behind past years’.

Though its been a long winter, McNamara said the extra feed he put away last year should get his 350 Holsteins through until this year’s crops come in.

McNamara said he was wrapping up the maple sugaring season this week by pulling taps.

He reported that he had harvested more than two-thirds of a crop or 2,000 gallons of syrup in a “short and sweet” two week sugaring season.

Putnam in Claremont reported a less successful sugaring season, approximately half a normal crop. He said it was short and during times he expected sap to run, it was frozen.

This week, Putnam is pulling taps, spreading manure and seeding an alfalfa/grass mixture. He said he is behind last year when he began seeding corn on the 18th of April.

“(It’s) cold now to be thinking of that,” he said.

Dan St. Onge, owner of a custom harvesting and manure spreading company based in Derby, Vt., said his company serves about 40 Connecticut River Valley farms, including McNamara Dairy.

He said his company maintains a fleet of 19 trucks so that farmers can focus on herd health instead of maintaining equipment and managing staff.

He said manure spreading has had a “slower start this year” due to the longer winter.

While the price of fuel is up, he said milk prices are up for farmers.

“It looks good at least until late fall right now,” he said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.