Jersey growers enduring wild summer weather

AFP Correspondent

NEWTON — While the Midwest sweats out this summer’s historically bad drought conditions, New Jersey weather ran nearly the entire spectrum, vacillating from drought and thunderstorms to floods, hail and even tornados.
These weather extremes have left the Garden State’s growers weather weary and not sure of what to expect in the month to come. Some crops have done well. Some have not.
“We had an extended period of dry conditions in June and July,” said Stephen Komar, Sussex County agricultural agent for Rutgers Cooperative Extension. “And just when I was getting worried, we had all that rain, but then we had hail. It’s been a crazy summer.”
Phil Brodhecker, operator of Sussex County’s Brodhecker Farm, which grows livestock crops, including corn, oats, straw and sunflowers, has seen varied outcomes of his crops throughout these weather extremes.
“We had that six week dry spell in June and July,” Brodhecker said, “and it produced the most beautiful oats we’ve ever seen. Perfect condition for that.
“But the crops we had impacted the worst were the ones pollinating during the dry period,” continued Brodhecker, who owns 165 acres but farms close to 1,000. “The extreme temperatures hurt the pollination. It couldn’t have happened at a more critical time. We are yet to see what our losses are.”
His hay crops did not fair well. In fact, the second cutting stopped growing. His sunflower crops were short and had smaller heads. The early corn didn’t do too well either.
For the past four weeks, Brodhecker said, Sussex County has had an adequate rain.
But along with that comes dew and moisture on the crops, which creates fungus that can affect the standability and kill crops before they can mature.
Add to that the deluge — remnants of Hurricane Isaac — that dropped up to five inches of rain on the area, and it’s no wonder growers aren’t sure what to expect as they begin their final rounds of harvesting.
“It’s been feast or famine for us,” Brodhecker said. “It’s either been too hot and dry for too long of a period of time or we get too much rain.”
Kenny Carlisle, the owner/operator of Little Hooves Romney in Moorestown, Burlington County, with his wife Charlene said they were “fortunate the drought didn’t last longer.”
Little Hooves Romney raises sheep and grows corn, wheat, soy and hay.
“Our early varieties of corn were hit pretty hard by the drought,” said Carlisle, who did invest in crop insurance. “The 103-day corn didn’t do too well, but the 110 and 112 days weren’t hit as bad.”
They grow the corn to feed the sheep and market feed through Perdue in Bordentown.
“If we don’t have the feed, we have to buy it,” said Carlisle. And that creates a cascading situation that ends up costing the operation more money.
“Our third cutting of hay wasn’t too good,” said Carlisle. “But we had so much rain in the past month or six weeks that our hay crops are going to be about the usual. Our beans are looking to be a pretty reasonable crop, if we don’t have an early frost. Wheat was hit pretty bad because it was so dry so early in the spring.”
“The effects of the weather are difficult to measure because of varied soil types, different crops, and weather,” Brodhecker said. “Summer thunderstorms can put a large amount of rain in an important place that could lead to a bumper crop. But then you have the farm a few miles down the road saying, ‘I wish we could get some of that rain.’”
Farmers are still dealing with the weather from last summer that included Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, which dropped more than 17 inches of rain on New Jersey in August.
“Last year’s weather was problematic,” said Brodhecker. “We’re still feeling effects of that. Those storms caused a 25 percent reduction in corn silage last fall, which caused us to run out of silage this July and August. Everyone is so focused on this year’s weather that they don’t quite catch how we were affected by last year’s weather. It impacted us in the long term and short term and how your cash flow is budgeted out in the long term. Where we have the losses from the drought, you can’t make up for that. Where you get a loss, you get a loss.
“But we’re not sure yet what’s going to happen with this year’s crops,” he continued. “Where we had a potential loss, we may yet get a bounce back from certain crops. Things are dryer now, but we’re not going to be able to determine the loss until we get in there. Things may look good from afar, but when you get in there, you may have more losses than you expected.”