Local farmers feeling the effects of extreme weather

Local farmers feeling the effects of extreme weather

Robert Goodwin checks the progress of his corn crop on his North Smithfield farm. Goodwin plants 45 acres of vegetables, 22 of which are corn.

NORTH SMITHFIELD - Local growers are reporting a disappointing start to the harvest season.

For some, the fruits of their labor were lost to extreme weather.

June's rains - 18 inches in 10 days - and mid-July's prolonged heat wave - seven straight days that saw temperatures top 90 degrees - have left their mark on the farm fields of northern Rhode Island.

Incessant rain delayed planting, leaving gaps in the corn harvest, while the heat fried squash blossoms and stressed the tomatoes.

And all that's assuming the budding veggies survived a new blight and encroachment of increasingly daring deer.

Tomatoes, beans and corn, while available, aren't as plentiful some are saying. And that's affecting prices.

"It hasn't been a good growing season for the whole northeast, says Bob Goodwin of Goodwin's Farm in North Smithfield where he's the seventh-generation Goodwin to farm the land at the crossroads of Greenville Road and Providence Pike.

"Rain and heat raises havoc with all the crops," he said.

But it's not just the nearby area, he says.

"Calls looking for corn are coming from all over, as far away as Ohio," Goodwin told The Breeze.

Rains not only delayed planting, but leached nitrogen and other nutrients out of the soil. Low-lying grounds were saturated for days after.

Much of his bean crop was lost, he says, when he couldn't get out to plant in June.

Corn was delayed along with beans and both crops are skimpier and more costly.

Look for bean prices up a $1 a pound on the retail market and corn up 25 cents a dozen. Tomatoes are running about the same as last year, but some roadside sellers are scrambling to find them.

Luke Fillon has operated the Old Orchard Farm stand in Manville for 27 years. This summer, he says, he's found himself reaching out further to find produce to sell. The more local farmers he likes to buy from just can't keep him stocked, he said.

Tomatoes, he said, "are just hard for me. The price isn't dropping on the wholesale end."

Fillon affirms that his stand on Old River Road is fully stocked, but adds, "Sometimes I beg, borrow and steal for a few extra."

He notes, "I'm not a farmer but I talk to the guys. Everything affects the crops. The heat affects them, the rain affects them, the cool nights, the bugs, the deer in the woods and even the squirrels affect them."

One source that is keeping Fillon's stand filled up is Confreda Farm in the village of Hope on the Cranston-Scituate line.

Vinny Confreda, the third-generation owner, says it's been a summer of challenges.

He planted 250 to 275 acres of corn and lost half of it, he says, describing "cooked corn in the fields" and deer so bold they ignored sometimes his arrival and kept on munching.

Confreda's crops usually cover 400 to 500 acres a year and that's been enough to keep this farm in business. Of 11 acres of tomatoes, for example, one and one-half acres was lost to bad weather and a bacteria blight that he says turns the leaves black as if hit by an early frost.

Still, he says, he's seen worse. The late August Tropical Storm Irene two years ago almost put him under, he says.

This summer's heartaches he sums up as "not too bad."

Perhaps most disappointed are the area's home gardeners who don't plant enough to cover their losses.

Heather Faubert of the Cooperative Extension at University of Rhode Island, said homegrowers are finding tomatoes are ripening more slowly than in years past.

"I have heard some growers and home-gardeners complain that field tomatoes are ripening very slowly. Probably the excessive heat in July stressed the plants and slowed them down. Some growers raise tomatoes in high tunnels or unheated greenhouses and these tomatoes are doing fine," she said.

So, considering all the summer's fluctuations, what about the pumpkin?

There's good news there. All the farmers are saying autumn's signature crop is doing just fine.