Local farmers relishing rain and more rain

T. CLAIRSVILLE – Local farmers for the most part are rejoicing at the wet weather we’ve been experiencing locally during the month of July.

Friday night’s showers marked 18-straight days that Ohio Valley has experienced some measure of precipitation.

Some days have been worse than others, sparking flash flooding and power outages because of high winds and storm conditions.

But for farmers, who rely on the rain to help nourished their crops, it’s been ideal … especially when compared to last year.

The month of July 2012 saw weeks upon weeks of little to no rain and the near drought-like conditions played havoc on local crop yields.

Dry conditions led to smaller yields and smaller produce being produced from area fields. It also was detrimental to water supply for livestock.

Thankfully, toward the start of August the rain began falling.

“Last year we were watering the tomatoes but there are certain things you can’t do anything about when it’s not raining,” said Jerry Ebbert of Ebbert’s Farm Market in St. Clairsville. “But once it started raining there the first of August, things were pretty good.

“But our pumpkins never really recovered.”

This summer, lack of rain is not a problem. But the overabundance of its can be problematic for farmers, both for commercial farms and backyard gardeners. It all depends on your land and how you’ve prepared it.

“There are some people in areas where it’s a lot flatter where the water has pooled and they’ve experienced some losses from flooding.

“You can also lose your nitrogen in the soil, especially with the corn, in that instance.

“But overall it’s been positive for us. We haven’t had any damage or any of the disease problems that come with excessive wet weather. We had our first harvest of corn (Friday) and things look really good.”

Ebbert’s farm land is located on sloping hills so there is a natural defense against pooling water.

For those with flat land, they have to rely on well-planned drainage systems or other methods to keep their crops from becoming submerged under standing water.

Danny Swan of Black Swan Organics in Wheeling has been able to beat the heavy rains, despite a relatively flat crop field, by utilizing a natural method.

“My field have not suffered in all the rain, primarily because I heavily mulch all of my crops,” Swan said.

Swan noted that, for the average gardener, many daily maintenance tasks require walking, kneeling, sitting and even crawling around amongst the plants.

That can be a nightmare in the muddy, swamp-like environment of your average garden after a prolonged period of rain. That same foot traffic can destroy soil structure, especially with the area’s upland clay soils.

“I am doing my garden tasks on a soft, spongy layer of leaves, straw, wood chips and whichever material I had access to at the time of planting,” Swan said.

“With all that in my favor, this monsoon-summer has been my best growing season yet.”

The wet weather also seems to be benefiting the local farmers markets, both for the vendors and the customers buying up all the fresh, locally grown produce.

“We’ve definitely seen more overall and better yield for each vendor this year compared to last,” said Jane Jarrett from the Barnesville Farmers’ Market.

That’s the joy and also the bane for farmers. They are at the mercy of the weather and must constantly update and manage their fields in relation to what is going on with the conditions.

Hughes may be reached at mhughes@timesleaderonline.com