A most soggy June has delayed some fall plantings in region

It's cherry-picking time at Weaver's Orchard in Morgantown. June's record rainfall slowed some fall plantings. Story, B5.
It's cherry-picking time at Weaver's Orchard in Morgantown. June's record rainfall slowed some fall plantings. Story, B5. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 13, 2013

The heat has had its impact, but here's one thing not on the list of concerns for the region's farmers: irrigation.

"It's been wet here for such a long stretch that we've been around two weeks behind getting stuff planted," said Nathan Kohler of Kohler Farms in Horsham. When the ground doesn't get a chance to dry out, he said, "it's hard to get stuff planted on time and in the right spots."

This year saw the wettest June in 142 years of record-keeping in Philadelphia, and the sixth-wettest month ever.

Luckily, July's precipitation so far has returned to more normal levels, with some scattered afternoon and evening thunderstorms that are less problematic for morning-oriented farmers.

Kohler said he was counting on a dry week to get his fall crops - corn, squash, and pumpkins - planted on schedule.

At Weaver's Orchard in Morgantown, Berks County, the fall crops are already in the ground. But the long stretch of rain caused some casualties in the sweet cherry department.

"We had some cracking due to the rain, so it did reduce our overall yield a bit," said owner Ed Weaver.

Farmers in New Jersey say the rain hasn't hurt the summer's tomato, peach, and blueberry crops.

Blueberry pickers were slowed down a bit by the precipitation last week, but "we survived with no hail," so the fruit itself is fine, said Bob Van Rohr of Jersey Fruit, a cooperative based in Glassboro.

Al Murray, New Jersey's assistant secretary of agriculture, said farmers may see lower yields on vine crops like yellow squash, zucchini, and cucumbers. "Hay farmers have also had it rough," he said, and farmers of all stripes will have higher costs to replace fertilizer and insecticides in washed-out fields.

Of course, weather is the cornerstone of the farmer's craft, and techniques both modern and ancient are employed regularly to balance nature's whims.

"I've been here 30 years and I have yet to see the perfect season," Murray said.

"The benefit of heavy rainfall is that we haven't had to be irrigating," Weaver said. But on the other hand, "you have to use a bit more fungicide so you don't get fruit rot."

The heat made his berries and tree fruits ripen a little earlier, and "it has changed our marketing a bit," Weaver said.

Many of his customers come year after year to pick their own berries for canning and jams. So he put out advertising and social-media messages advising customers to come earlier in the season.

And come they did - but mostly on the cooler, drier days.

Contact Jessica Parks at 610-313-8117, jparks@philly.com, or follow on Twitter @JS_Parks.

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