-- — “This is probably one of the worst years ever,” said vendor Jim Doll, Sunman, at the Batesville Farmers’ Market Aug. 11. “Nothing grows. It’s all small and dried out.”
What methods have producers used to raise crops in near drought conditions? “I have really turned to mulching this year – very heavy mulching,” answers Sam Robinson, Sunman. “That will hold the moisture in and keep water from evaporating.” He points out mulch also discourages weeds, so produce and weeds aren’t competing for what little rain there is.
Mary Stephens, Batesville, reports, “I had to change my way of protecting my lettuce from the sun.” She used more plastic shade cloth to keep the heat off. “I had to water more, every day when it was so hot,” using soaker hoses and sprays of water to keep her small garden viable.
“Lots of irrigation” is how Lucas Ludwig, Batesville, is combatting the dry ground and record heat wave. An overhead irrigation system that has access to water from three ponds can hydrate 6 acres at a time. “If we don’t irrigate, we get nothing.”
Tom Laker, who raises corn between New Point and Enochsburg, is using a natural spray fertilizer instead of chemicals, according to wife Carolyn. “It helps the soil.”
When asked what he’s doing, Edward Windholtz, Sunman, replies, “Nothing, really.” But then he divulges a secret: “I used to put a lot of cow manure on my ground. I think that helped” keep his crops growing during the dry spell. He was told the advantages of adding manure can last seven years.
Doll says he simply waited it out, knowing the weather “is going to be bad for everybody.”
The effect on fruits and vegetables has been stark. “Everything is suffering in size and quality,” according to Ludwig. “The overall volume is down 50-75 percent, especially the corn.”
Carolyn Laker says they lost crops from a late frost and replanted a field. Then the lack of rain meant the first ears picked were about half normal size. “We put up for ourselves” and sold them at the usual price to locals craving fresh corn. “With all your work and time you have in it, you’re just going to lose if you reduce the price.” Because the couple staggers planting, with recent rains, their ears are the usual size.
Stephens believes the dryness has affected tomatoes. “They have a good taste, but aren’t as nice looking. I think wildlife, especially birds, have gotten to crops more because there is not that much out there for them to eat.”
Robinson notices, “For me, it’s been almost impossible to raise (Romano) beans.”
Has this summer’s weather taught the farmers any lessons? “If we don’t get much snow or rain next spring, we’ll have to start watering early,” suggests Stephens.
Ludwig predicts, “We’re going to be in a dry cycle” for several years. “It’s going to take a major weather change” for the skies to open up more frequently. In fact, a hurricane down South would help producers in the Midwest, he says, but “you can’t wish for something like that.”
Laker observes, “Every year is different” so 2012’s growing methods may not work in 2013.
Doll flatly says, “You can’t predict Mother Nature.”
Debbie Blank can be contacted at 812-934-4343, Ext. 113; or debbie.blank@ batesvilleheraldtribune.com.