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Dry Weather Raises Concerns Across Mid-Atlantic
Pennsylvania Ag Connection - 06/08/2023

Weeks of parched conditions are raising crop concerns throughout the Mid-Atlantic.

While farmers have had good conditions to make hay and ripen strawberries, farmers across the region are facing slow plant growth or relying on irrigation to get by.

Nearly all of Pennsylvania and Maryland are at least abnormally dry, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, and those conditions lap into surrounding regions — southern New York, Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, much of Ohio and Vermont.

Berks County, Pennsylvania, received just 0.2 inches of rain in May, or 4 inches less than normal.

“It’s unreal. The soil is like baby powder,” said Nick Nocella, who grows 40 acres of produce and 30 acres of hay in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania.

At First Fruits Farm in Freeland, Maryland, Rick Bernstein has gone two months without measurable rainfall.

As a result, he has started irrigating some of his produce crops and has held off hilling potatoes to avoid losing moisture.

“In my memory, this is the earliest drought we have ever seen,” he said. “This is a particularly challenging time because the plants are just getting started.”

Rain is in the forecast for the coming week, but Bernstein said it needs to be several inches over a few days or it won’t be much help.

In western Pennsylvania, the dry weather has slowed emergence for some corn and soybean plantings, said Justin Brackenrich, a Penn State Extension educator.

Farmers were taking advantage of the lack of rain to make dry hay well ahead of schedule, but they were taking a yield loss of 10% to 15%.

“There was low humidity, hot temperatures and no rain, which was really good haymaking weather for early June,” said Brackenrich, who is based in Greene County. “I think some of the yield loss was the result of making hay earlier.”

Given the optimal conditions, some farmers who typically make baleage abandoned that plan for first cutting to put up dry hay.

There will be time to make baleage later in the season, Brackenrich said, but there might not be another dry hay window as lengthy as this one.

“We did get a half-inch of rain over the weekend (June 2-4) and this area isn’t nearly as bad as other parts of the state,” he said. “It may look grim right now, but they’re calling for rain and temperatures cooling off below 80 degrees, so things could get better soon.”

Organic dairy farmer John Painter said his farm in Tioga County, Pennsylvania, is starting to look like the Dust Bowl.

Painter’s corn plants are small but resilient, in part because of drought-tolerance traits. His alfalfa, with its deep roots, had a good first cutting.

But the grasses are at 50% to 60% of where he’d like and are turning brown. His pastures are almost nonexistent, and if rain doesn’t come soon, he could start feeding supplemental hay in late June — a month or more before normal.

“It all needs a drink, really bad,” Painter said.


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