WEATHERING THE CROPS AT LAND'S SAKE FARM
How the rain has affected our 2023 crops: Excerpt taken from our CSA "Notes from the Field" newsletter
One of the most challenging parts of vegetable farming and agricultural work more broadly is the unpredictable nature of the work. We spend an amazing amount of time and energy planning for scenarios they may never come to pass. For example, taking the time to set up drip irrigation on a crop, just to have frequent rain keep us from ever needing to run it, or covering a vulnerable crop with row cover to protect from a frost that never actually comes. Now, not having to water, or missing a frost is not usually something to complain about, both save us time, worry, and potential crop loss.
I hope that these simple examples might give you a glimpse into the decision making challenges we face every day on the farm. Decisions that may determine whether a crop survives, or whether we “waste” staff time to do a task that we later learn was unnecessary, or any number of other scenarios. We are pivoting all the time on our day-to-day plan, and in years like 2023, we find ourselves doing that more often than usual. Frequent precipitation has made work planning far more difficult than previous years. We find ourselves chasing dry spells, trying to cram in as much work as possible before the next rain. When that rain is followed by rapidly climbing temperatures, that complicates things even further and creates conditions that favor crop disease (bacterial, fungal, etc). It is pretty dramatic the difference between 2022 (one of the worst drought years in recent memory) and 2023, with regular extreme rainfall events. Climate scientists say that these unpredictable and extreme patterns will only become more common, which is a scary thought indeed.
We have experienced multiple massive rainfall events in very short periods of time which led to isolated flooding in some of our fields. The worst of which happened on the morning of August 8, 2023, when we got over 2.5” of rain in a few hours. Thankfully most of the farmers were sheltered in our greenhouse and were able to stay dry, most of our plants weren’t so lucky. We had rivers running through the low paths of both of our high tunnels, and notable erosion in all of our crop fields. Our winter squash and melon field fared the worst of all, being one of our lowest lying sites. Every path between raised crops beds had standing water. Thankfully things drained away quickly after the rain subsided, but the damage was done. Many of our winter squash plants were damaged, with immature fruit rotting on the vine within days. Some varieties fared better than others based on which part of the field they were planted. Some of the biggest losses were pie pumpkins, delicata, and some butternut with near total loss in the first two. This sort of weather will have major impacts on our fall crop offerings. Sadly it is too late to replant these crops for a late harvest, so we just need to live with it and rely on other crops to fill their place. Thankfully, the nature of our diversified farm operation prepares us well for situations like this by not relying on one or two crops to meet our commitments.
The rain did not only impact our winter squash, but it damaged our tomatoes and melons as well. Though we are actively picking, crop quality and storability will be impacted. I strongly recommend that folks enjoy these crops quickly, as their shelf life is decreased. If you see melons with sunken lesions, or tomatoes with cracked tops, these fruits are still edible and delicious! You may just need to cut around some of the problem areas to enjoy them. Though we typically sort out some of these imperfections, we don’t have that luxury this year. I think most people would agree that imperfect food is better than no food at all! We ask for your understanding as we navigate this challenging season and I certainly apologize for any produce that doesn’t hold as well as one might expect.
This season has me thinking about what adjustments we need to make to build a bit more resiliency into our operation around extreme rainfall. Some resolutions are simple, like don’t plant long season crops that grow close to the ground in our wettest field. Others are much more complex. For example I am strongly considering a fungicide spray regiment for our field tomatoes in the future. This is not something I am excited to start, but it may be essential to ensure high quality vegetables in the future. Any spray regiment would be approved under the organic standards outlined by the USDA, and in line with practices I have used on certified organic farms before. If customers have opinions or thoughts about this potential change, I would be interested in constructive feedback. I am happy to have discussions with anyone as I weigh this option. If you are concerned or unsure of what this means, just ask!