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Record rain takes toll on upstate farmers

Tom Magnarelli
Chuck Luchsinger (center) of Silver Spring Farm talks with New York State Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball.

Parts of upstate New York have been receiving record amounts of rainfall this year. The rain is one of the contributing factors to the high water levels on Lake Ontario which has caused extensive property damage. But it is also taking a toll on local farmers.

The city of Syracuse has received about 30 inches of rain this year. That’s an amount the region usually does not accumulate until mid-October.

But on one hot, sunny Tuesday in July, you would never guess it. People are taking a break from the city’s hustle and bustle, to enjoy the downtown farmer’s market. They are eating from food trucks by the Clinton Square fountain. Jessie Hahn is selling her crochet critters.

“Right now it basically pays for my yarn addiction,” Hahn said.

Credit Tom Magnarelli / WRVO News
WRVO News (file photo)
Syracuse's downtown farmer's market.

Jessie’s mom owns Hahn Farms in Baldwinsville and they’re selling zucchini, pickles, peas, onions, garlic, cucumbers and beets. The crocheting has been given some more space at the tables.

“This year with the farm being so wet and nothing growing right now, I’ve got time to put it out now," Hahn said. "Some of our stuff didn’t get planted until about three weeks late so it’s all late coming. With it still being that wet, we don’t know what we’re even going to get on some things. Our garlic, we lost about a third at least of the field. Zucchini is just starting where we should be halfway through it already.”

Cindy Paine of the Oliver Paine Greenhouses, south of Fulton, sells plants like herbs, hanging baskets and perennials. She said the rain hurts their business too.

“Our customers can’t get out and plant, so then they don’t come into the greenhouse," Paine said. "When you have prolonged days of cloudy, rainy weather, that puts more pressure on the plants as far as diseases and things. It’s more of challenge to keep everything from being too humid, keep the air moving, keep things circulating so we don’t develop fungal diseases.”

Julian Mangano just started a small scale farm in Lewis County and for him, the rain isn’t all bad.

“It’s actually been a saving grace," Mangano said. "It’s been helping because we don’t have an irrigation system set up yet so having the rain is like, thank you god! Around the area where we have our garden, people are saying they should have started rice paddies this year."

Greg Wilson runs a farm with beef cattle.

"If we don’t have the crops this winter, we’re going to have problems," Wilson said. "We’ll have to buy it or get rid of some animals, one or the other."

The rain has prevented him from cutting and drying hay and they were late planting corn, an issue shared by dairy farmer Chuck Luchsinger. At his Silver Spring Farm in Syracuse, Luchsinger talked about all the problems the rain has caused.

“It has affected our cows going out to pasture because the roadways turn into a sloppy mess," Luchsinger said. "It’s affected the cows, if it rains all night they stand together and don’t eat. Rain is great for making things grow but enough is enough.”

Luchsinger said the rain impacts smaller dairy farms more than the larger ones with enclosed freestall barns.

Last year, New York State Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball was touring parts of upstate affected by a severe drought. He said this year has also been challenging.

“But its been particularly tough on the Finger Lakes region, it’s been very hard on the North Country, very hard on parts of the Southern Tier and the western part of New York,” Ball said.

He admitted crops have gone in late, and first cuttings are not all in. Ideally, Silver Spring Farm cuts hay four times during the summer, but that might not happen this year. But Ball said farmers are coping.

“There’s time to make up ground and our farmers will do that," Ball said.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.