Too Much Rain Has Caused Pain for Local Farmers

Strawberry crop losses are well over 50%

By Susan Able, EdibleDC, photos by Sarah Culver

Sarah_Culver-Sarah-Culver-037.jpg

This rain has been a spring bummer for us weekend planners—but have you wondered about what it has done to local farming conditions and yield?

At the Anne Arundel County Farmers Market last weekend, there were no strawberries to be had. Karl Shlagel, of Shlagel Farms in Waldorf, MD shrugged and said to me, “I told you a couple of weeks ago if we had more heavy rain, it would all be over—and it was. We lost over 50% of our crop.” Shlagel Farms, a popular pick-your-own strawberry spot and supplier of DMV restaurants, wrapped up their strawberry year early, a financial hit.

“My granddaddy always said better a dry year than a wet one. As farmers, we can always add water to crops through irrigation, but we can’t take water away. And while plants need big drinks, too much and they drown or get sick.”

 Russ Shlagel walks his strawberry fields in 2016, a much higher yield year for the Waldorf, MD farm. 

Russ Shlagel walks his strawberry fields in 2016, a much higher yield year for the Waldorf, MD farm. 

According the VA Department of Agriculture, parts of Virginia received two months’ worth of rain in two weeks. They issued a statement about the wet conditions last week saying, “Too much rain for too long a time can be devastating to an agricultural operation. It affects different farms differently, depending on location (top of a hill vs. the bottom), soil type, crops produced or animals raised, the time of year, and where a farm is in the planting, growing or harvesting schedule.”

Anne Geyer, owner of Agriberry, a Virginia berry farm said, “The storm systems helped keep temperatures down, which is good, but heavy rain damaged strawberries and made them less resistant to mold attacks. While high heat can be a problem, we absolutely need sunshine to help sweeten the berries and deepen their flavor. But our hearts really go out to many of Virginia’s cherry growers this season. They were on track for their best harvests in more than a decade, only to lose most of their crop right before the harvest. Heavy rains caused the cherries to swell and split open.”

Too much rain creates problems for farmers in three ways: Heavy periods of rain can rot berries and vegetables on the vine, increase the chance for fungi to grow on for wine grapes and other plants, or just kill plants with root rot. Second, soil that is over-saturated with water makes planting or harvesting difficult if not impossible, particularly when farmers are using heavy farm equipment. And if farmers need to replant, the season is shorter with reduced yields. Third, for farmers who are raising animals, too much rain can flood grazing fields, disrupting grazing while destroying hay and other feed. Wet conditions for extended periods of time increase chance for animal disease, encourage conditions for parasites and foot problems, such as hoof rot.  

Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Joe Bartenfelder issued a press release on May 31, reminding Maryland farmers that they should report any losses from recent storms and cool weather to their crop insurance agents as soon as possible. 

Weather makes or breaks a farming season. More than almost any other occupation, a stretch of bad weather is not just an inconvenience. It can make the difference between a good year and a disastrous one.