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Farmers had too much rain this spring, not enough now

July 23, 2011

Mary Ann Peterson (left), of Green Lawn Farms, sells produce with her grandson, Dustin, Thursday at the Farmers Market in downtown Punxsutawney. (Photo by Tom Chapin/The Punxsutawney Spirit)

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Farmers taking part in Thursday’s Farmers’ Market downtown have dealt with the hot weather in varying degrees, but agree on one thing: They need rain ... and more than the area received Friday night.

“It’s kind of hard to grow this stuff without rain,” said Royce Sprague, who was selling produce with help from his wife, Charlotte, and grandchildren Nico McDonald, 10, and Tiffany Hand, 14. “We got a little rain Monday, but it was only about 15 minutes.”

The weekly Farmers’ Market — which began last Thursday and is scheduled to possibly run into October — drew only three different vendors this week — perhaps due to the heat — but was busy last week.

Cory Mottice, a meteorologist with AccuWeather in State College, said the current dryness is actually the first stage of a drought.
“Right now, it’s like just the initial phase, abnormally dry,” he said.

The next stages are moderate, severe drought, extreme drought and exception drought, which is what areas on the Great Plains are experiencing now.

Most of western and northwestern Pennsylvania are in the abnormally dry phase.

“Just from looking around this area, the lawns are brown,” Mottice said.
The dryness is measured in the soil and its different layers. The dryer it is, the deeper it affects the soil, Mottice said.

Currently only the top layer of the soil is affected.

Sprague, who grew up on his family farm along the Big Run-Prescottville Road in Reynoldsville, said the constant rain of spring and early summer made it difficult to plant crops. But now, the lack of rain has limited the number of items he’s able to bring to the Farmers’ Market.

When asked how much he has compared to last year, Sprague said, “a lot less. Right now, I have a dozen ears of corn. I didn’t think I was going to have any.”

Of the corn he has growing at the farm now, he said only 30 percent of the stalks are producing ears.

The cherries, blueberries, peas, peaches, corn, apples and squash he did have on hand Thursday, he was keeping on ice in large bins in the bed of his truck.

After all his years of farming, Sprague said, “This is the worst summer I’ve seen. ... It’s going to take a lot of rain. At least two to three inches.”

Martha Hershberger, manning a stand for the Hershberger Farm and Dutch Hollow Bakery, outside Sykesville, agreed with Sprague: The spring and early summer rain made it difficult to plant the crops. But she said the heat thus far wasn’t causing too many problems, thanks to an irrigation systems at the farm.

Mary Ann Peterson, of Green Lawn Farm along Trout Run Road, Punxsy, said crews have watered crops every day this week, using hoses from the well.

She had beans, cucumbers, red beets and squash for sale at the Farmers Market Thursday, and said she was surprised that the crop of peas was doing as well as it was in the heat.

So, is there relief in sight?

Mottice said there were some storms coming across western Pennsylvania Friday evening.

In the long run, he expects some storms at the end of next week, but then — another possibility of hot weather.

“Then as we head into the end of next week, there’s a ridge building back up again,” Mottice said. “I don’t think it will be extreme heat like this, but it could be pretty warm.”

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