Heavy rainfall has advantages, disadvantages for local produce growers
With summer comes the promise of fresh fruits and vegetables from the farmers’ market, grown right in the community’s backyard. While supporting local agriculture has become a growing trend nationwide, growers and consumers face uncertainties with each season.
Principally, the weather can be unpredictable and harsh, forcing farmers to make adjustments to what and when they produce.
“Every year has a new set of challenges,” said Duane Black, of Black’s Heritage Farm in Ames.
Duane and his wife, Norine, said some people who visit the Black’s stand at the Downtown Farmers’ Market do not understand how the ebb and flow of the weather can affect production.
There have been instances, Duane said, when a guest at the famers’ market expected a certain fruit or vegetable to be there, but it was either out of season or the season had been cut short due to inclement weather.
The couple sees those instances as opportunities to educate consumers on how they should “eat seasonally,” Norine said.
“It’s a teaching process,” Duane said.
Part of that process includes reminding consumers that the weather is always the key factor.
This year, for example, has been extremely wet. Harry Hillacker, state climatologist, said Ames received 11.73 inches of rainfall in June and had had a total of 17 days with rainfall this month. The average amount of rainfall in June is usually 4.76 inches.
Though the weather has made it difficult at times to work in their fields, there have been positive results for local farmers, too, as many fruits and vegetables are benefiting from the extra moisture. Norine Black said kale is abundant and snap peas are crisp and juicy from the additional rain, and this could also be one of their best years for sweet corn.
The additional moisture can also be a detriment.
“Rain is helpful to a certain extent, but it becomes a liability when you get too much,” said Dick DeMoss, of the DeMoss Pumpkin Farm in Gilbert.
DeMoss, like many other farmers, uses bees to pollinate perennial fruits such as strawberries. The DeMoss farm uses 300,000 bees to pollinate fruit. However, the bees will not pollinate when it’s raining, DeMoss said. Less pollination results in smaller yields for consumers to purchase.
DeMoss sells produce at the North Grand Farmers’ Market, which is separate from the Downtown Ames Farmers’ Market. He said consumers have been frustrated by the lack of certain produce, especially with the abbreviated strawberry season.
He said some customers were surprised to learn that this year’s strawberry season lasted only about two and a half weeks, when it usually lasts about a month.
Educating consumers about why produce isn’t available is a constant process, DeMoss said.
“We learned a long time ago you tell it like it is,” he said.
He said Mid-Iowans know the weather can be unpredictable, but they still may not understand how the weather affects the farmland. DeMoss suggested this could be because residents that live in town do not get to see the puddles in the field and recognize how much it actually rained.
DeMoss said the growing season is still early, and the rain has allowed the asparagus to grow to colossal heights, including some stalks he’s taken to the market that were more than a foot tall. Tomatoes also are doing well this year.
He said even his pumpkin plants seem to be doing well. If he had planted them any later in the season, however, they would have come in a month late this fall because of the rain. Pumpkins are the DeMoss’ farm’s biggest sellers.
DeMoss said he could have a better-than-average year, but that will depend on what the weather does in coming weeks. If it cooperates, that will be good news for consumers who want to buy and eat local produce.