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Persistent Rain Bothers Farmers and Builders

Michael Smith of Plainfield harvests garlic scapes at Gypsy Meadows Farm during a dry spell in the early afternoon Friday, June 28, 2013. "You don't really want to be in here when they're wet," he said of his produce beds. "Because if there's any (disease) you just spread it." 
jpatterson@vnews.com
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Michael Smith of Plainfield harvests garlic scapes at Gypsy Meadows Farm during a dry spell in the early afternoon Friday, June 28, 2013. "You don't really want to be in here when they're wet," he said of his produce beds. "Because if there's any (disease) you just spread it." jpatterson@vnews.com photo@vnews.com Purchase photo reprints »

Hartland — Although the state of Vermont avoided a flood warning issued earlier this week, farmers and construction workers throughout the Upper Valley are still concerned with the effects of too much rain.

“With too much rain, the nutritional quality of hay goes down over time,” said Hartland farmer Stephen Leslie. “The value of the crop is lower and not as healthy for the animals.”

Leslie, who’s operated Cedar Mountain Farm for the past 14 years, said he normally collects his first cut of hay in early June.

But almost a month has passed, and he predicts that 75 percent of his first cut has yet to be harvested.

“That’s a long time in the life cycle of grass,” Leslie said.

Leslie owns 20 milk cows and four draft horses, and if the harvest comes in soggy or unhealthy, it won’t be good for his animals.

This week alone rainfall ruined nearly seven acres of farmland, Leslie said.

“I’m sure we’ll still get our hay crop in,” he said, but he cautioned that more rain would lead to a shortage of hay later on. “The only plus side is, there’s tremendous grazing for my cows,” Leslie said.

Several farmers are concerned with the recent conditions. With a drought in early May, and cool, rainy weather throughout the month of June, the growing season has been unpredictable.

And if the soil becomes excessively moist, the fruits and vegetables will rot, or pick up diseases.

On Thursday, the outlook became bleaker: Gov. Peter Shumlin issued a flood warning for the state of Vermont.

A press release from his office warned that “even if rain lessens Friday, rivers may not reach their crest until Saturday or later.”

The National Weather Service in Portland, Maine, which calculates weather data for New Hampshire, said Plainfield received .96 inches in a 24-hour cycle. Otherwise, other Valley towns on the New Hampshire side of the river were hit by less than 3/4 of an inch. In Vermont, most of Orange and Windsor county saw between a half-inch to an inch of rain by yesterday morning, less than feared.

“We haven’t had all that much rain,” said Jake Guest, who’s operated Killdeer Farm in Norwich for 34 years.

Guest said he grows fruits and vegetables, and sees the rain as a cost-saver.

“We’re not having to irrigate, so we’re saving a lot of money right there,” he said. “We haven’t had any hail or band wind either.”

But continuous storms will cause damage, he said. More than 24 hours of wetness breeds mildew, blights, fungal diseases and rotting

Guest said “the rule of thumb with vegetables is one inch of rain a week.”

Others, like Pooh Sprague of Edgewater Farm, remained determined.

Yesterday afternoon, Sprague said he was thankful for the breaks in rain.

He said “the gifts” would help dry out the wet patches of land and help recuperate the crops before the next wet wave.

He said most corn won’t be knee-high by the fourth of July — an old farmer’s adage — but that’s just how growing works.

“You never know what you’re going to get,” he said.

“I’m certainly not making light of a dark situation, but for folks along the river, we’re not doing too bad,” Sprague continued. “Whether we squeak through is up to the weather. Our luck could run out tonight, or over the weekend.”

Farmers weren’t the only people in the Upper Valley hindered by the rain.

Brandon Merkosky, project engineer of the Windsor bridge Interstate 91 construction, said work has been delayed by almost two weeks because of the rainy weather.

When it storms first thing in the morning, Merkosky said he has to send most of his laborers home, for safety reasons.

“We’re working with about 5 or 6 people right now,” he said yesterday, looking across the construction site.

Trailers sat on the right-hand side of the road. A 170-foot red crane loomed in the sky.

Mill Brook flowed on the left side of the road, where several construction men were working.

The brook has risen because of the amount of rain lately, Merkosky said.

And one of the construction areas, which is below brook-level, gets filled with the overflow of silt and dirty groundwater. The excavation gets wet and slushy, making it harder for the cranes to scoop out dirt.

“Needless to say, we have a lot of ground to make up,” Merkosky said. “The rain keeps magnifying our problems.”

Zack Peterson can be reached at 603-727-3211 or zpeterson@vnews.com.