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Record Spring Rain Has Farmers Scrambling

Kathleen Masterson
Standing water has delayed farmers in Colchester from harvesting corn and hay this spring.

So far this June is one of the wettest on record in Vermont. With over 7 inches of rainfall, it’s the fourth wettest June in Burlington since 1884.

For many farmers, waterlogged fields have prevented them from harvesting hay; and the standing water stunts the growth of corn and other grains.  

Across the state some farmers have reported they're harvesting only half as much hay as their fields normally produce. Others say their corn definitely won't be knee-high by the 4th of July.

On a recent visit to corn and hay fields in Colchester, agronomist Kirsten Workman assessed the water damage and measured nutrient levels to see how much extra fertilizer the farmers need to apply.

“It’s actually fairly well-drained soil, but with the rainfall we’ve had we’re seeing lots of ponding,” says Workman, an agronomy outreach professional with UVM Extension, as she points to struggling corn stalks sitting in several inches of water.

“What we really are seeing across Chittenden, Addison, Franklin counties is nutrient deficiencies in the corn crops and soy corps because of all the rain.”

In Colchester, at a corn field farmed by neighbors Norm Thibault and Jeff Senesac, Workman says waterlogged soils have led to denitrification, which happens when water smothers out oxygen and the nitrate fertilizer basically turns into nitrogen gas:

“So it’s no longer available for the plants to utilize, so what didn’t leech now has denitrified, so we’re going in today and sampling multiple fields of Norm and Jeff to see how much fertilizer they’ll need to add.”

Thibault and his father run a dairy farm of about 200 Holsteins. He says he was able to salvage about three-quarters of his normal yield, and fortunately he has excess harvest from last year to feed his cattle.

Thibault and Senesac did manage to harvest some hay over the last few days.

“It’s later than normal, so the nutrient value will be down, and it’s going to be a little coarser, so animals won’t like it quite as much,” says Senesac.

The extreme weather this year has been something of a triple-whammy for many farmers, says Workman.

“Winter was tough, there was quite a bit of winter kill, and then it was dry, so first cut yields were about half the normal yield,” says Workman. “And then it got wet, so if you didn’t get your first cut in time and the weather started, now you’re stuck waiting to get the first crop of hay off.”

Senesac points to straggly corn plants, some in standing water, in his 22-acre field.

"As long as this corn has been in the ground it should be at least 24 inches tall, and it’s not," says Senesac. “And it should be dark green and you’ll notice it’s a very light green, that’s because it’s been wet and cold.”

Senesac says the crop can recover with some heat and sun, “but it’s going to cost a fair amount more than normal in fertilizer to replace what’s been leached out of the soil because of all the rain.”

Despite the record rain in Franklin, Addison and Chittenden counties, southern parts of the state including Rutland and Bennington have received lower than average or on par with normal rainfall, says Workman.

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Kathleen Masterson as VPR's New England News Collaborative reporter. She covered energy, environment, infrastructure and labor issues for VPR and the collaborative. Kathleen came to Vermont having worked as a producer for NPR’s science desk and as a beat reporter covering agriculture and the environment.
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