July 17, 2019
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Maine’s abnormally wet spring could mean smaller, rotting crops at local farms

Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
In this Friday, Aug. 24, 2018, photo, a worker rakes wild blueberries at a farm in Union, Maine.

If not for this year’s abnormally rainy April, Blue Hill Berry Co. owner Nicolas Lindholm might be weed-whacking some of his 70 acres of wild blueberry fields this week to keep them from being shaded by tall weeds.

But he doesn’t expect to be doing that for at least another two weeks, when the ground dries out.

“You would be a fool to walk through your field and risk spreading diseases,” the 55-year-old organic farmer from Penobscot said, calling the two-week delay “very disconcerting.”

Lindholm isn’t alone. Maine farmers’ spring plantings and field maintenance have been delayed by two to four weeks this year due to fields that are too wet and soft to handle heavy machinery. This threatens the profitability of this year’s crop for farmers already suffering from low market prices and high transportation costs.

“With any crop that uses heavy equipment, they can’t get onto the field,” said Julieann Smith, executive director of the Maine Farm Bureau.

The delay could mean smaller vegetable plants, a delayed harvest and increased chances of crops fouled by rot, disease or predators, said Ellen Sabina, a spokeswoman for Maine Farmland Trust.

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The impact of the delay has been “pretty significant” on hay growers that supply food for livestock at horse, beef and dairy farms. The first crop is the most important to hay growers, Smith said.

“Its nutritive value is highest. That’s what cows or horses or cattle are eating most of the winter, so once the grass goes to seed, it loses a lot of its nutrients with the seeds that go out,” Smith said.

A weak first harvest of hay this spring will likely force dairy and other livestock farmers to buy more animal feed, which is costly, Smith said.

Maine blueberry growers have a lot of difficulty with mildew and rotting when the ground is wet, Smith said.

The wet ground forced Lindholm to mow rather than burn his fallow fields this spring. Mowing is cheaper, quicker and safer than burning, but it does not control certain diseases and insects like burning does, he said.

April was unusually wet this year and followed a snowy winter, two conditions that contribute to fields’ sogginess, said Mark Bloomer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Caribou.

April weather gave Bangor 5.53 inches of rainfall, which is about 1.93 inches above normal, while in Caribou, 4.84 inches fell, about 2.18 inches above normal.

In May, another 4.43 inches of rain fell in Bangor, about .79 inches above normal, while June rainfall as of Tuesday was 3.3 inches, which is 0.23 inches above average, Bloomer said.

March rainfalls in Bangor and Caribou were at or below average, but that might not matter much when it comes to drying out fields, Bloomer said.

“One thing to keep in mind here is that spring was very cloudy, and that is probably significant, because once the sun comes out, it dries up quickly,” Bloomer said. “And we had a much higher snowfall this year, and that set us back.”

Caribou, prime territory for potato and dairy farming, also had 165.4 inches of snow fall this year. Normally, it gets about 108.7 inches of snow in the winter.

Bangor had 79.9 inches of snow, about 13.8 inches over the average, Bloomer said.

Potato farmers might not be too harmed by excessively wet soil, Smith said.

“A lot of the seed potatoes can rot in the wet, but we really won’t know about that until harvest time,” she said.

Watch: How some Maine farmers have turned cold winter months into an extended growing season



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