Worst Drought in Northeast this Decade has Broad Impacts

When the word drought is said, thoughts of California and the Salinas Valley come to mind. Thoughts of large Midwestern irrigation system and raging wildfires also emerge. Most do not think of the Northeast as a place of drought. But if you are a farmer in the Northeast or have spent any time here for the past two summer you probably know about the current drought conditions.

In the Northeast currently and during the summer farmers were and are wrestling with the worst drought the region has seen in a decade. This creates quite a problem when considering the fact that the Northeast contains 175,000 farms that produce $21 billion in food, hay, and flowers[1]. Total production will likely not reach this figure due to lack of rainfall. Some farms that usually produce 2 or 3 cuts of hay may only mange producing one cut this year.

Precipitation has been below average for nearly all of the Northeast. Most of Connecticut and Massachusetts, and all of Rhode Island received below 75% of normal rainfall from March to June[2]. This is also true for large areas of New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. In contrast, parts of West Virginia broke record rainfall amounts in the month of June. The USDA reported that in early July the moisture in topsoil was very short for 51% of New York and 60% of New England. Subsoil moisture was very short for 47% of New York and 56% of New England[3].

The Northeast drought may not be as severe as the five-year drought currently plaguing the West coast but conditions are hot and dry enough to stress crops and have prompted water restrictions and bans in many towns. Increased numbers of wildfires are also a concern. Some national weather experts are saying that these conditions could last until the end of October and beyond[4]. If one state were to be dubbed the epicenter of this drought it would be Massachusetts. The United States Drought Monitor shows that three quarters of the state are in some kind of drought condition and nearly the entire state is dry[5]. Katie Campbell-Nelson, a vegetable production specialist with UMass Extension reported yield and quality decrease in produce across the state and increased irrigation costs.

One farm that is experiencing the negative impacts of the drought is the Warner Farm of Sunderland, Mass. run by Mike Wisseman and his family[6]. The farm is situated in the Connecticut River Valley with silty clay soil that holds water well. Despite this fact, Wissemann thinks that his farm lost tens of thousands of dollars due to the dry conditions. They were unable to plant the 2 or 3 acres of sweet corn or produce a second crop of zucchini like they usually do. The Wissemann family couldn’t spend as much time working the land because they were busy installing irrigation lines.
There is hope for those who make a living through agriculture and there are steps that can be taken to aid in times of need. Masoud Hashemi at the University of Massachusetts says that many farmers are calling for information about transitioning to no-till agriculture[7]. This means that crops are planted on top of existing vegetative matter from previous plantings rather than the land being conventionally tilled. Erosion concerns are minimized with this practice because naturally occurring soil aggregates are broken up and softened when soil is tilled. Soil is allowed to go undisturbed and perform some of its normal functions such as acting like a sponge to hold water and nutrients well. Crop rotation, cover cropping, and pasture rotation are other practices that promote soil health and  reduce losses experienced in a drought.
The satellite-activated U.S. Drought Monitor, located at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, is the go-to online map for Northeast farmers[8]. It has the ability to detect when a drought is on the way before the human eye can. Warning in advance is good but farmers also need to plan ahead. The impacts of a drought can be heartbreaking so farmers need a plan for how to prepare for and deal with conditions of low water.

drought

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/08/18/extreme-drought-expands-through-northeastern-massachusetts/gJvxvUipVHXahMCiKRtZaL/story.html

[1] Kaufman, Jill. “Northeast Farmers Grapple With Worst Drought in More Than a Decade.” NPR.org. NPR, 30 Aug. 2016. Web. 03 Oct. 2016.

[2] Mecray, Ellen. “Drought Impacts and Outlook.” Nrcc.cornell.edu. Northeast Regional Climate Center, July 2016. Web. 03 Oct. 2016

[3] Mecray, Ellen. “Drought Impacts and Outlook.” Nrcc.cornell.edu. Northeast Regional Climate Center, July 2016. Web. 03 Oct. 2016

[4] Casey, Michael. “Drought Hits Northeastern US, Could Last Months.” Boston.com. The New YorkTimes, 24 July 2016. Web. 03 Oct. 2016.

[5] Casey, Michael. “Drought Hits Northeastern US, Could Last Months.” Boston.com. The New YorkTimes, 24 July 2016. Web. 03 Oct. 2016.

[6] Kaufman, Jill. “Northeast Farmers Grapple With Worst Drought in More Than a Decade.” NPR.org. NPR, 30 Aug. 2016. Web. 03 Oct. 2016.

[7] Kaufman, Jill. “Northeast Farmers Grapple With Worst Drought in More Than a Decade.” NPR.org. NPR, 30 Aug. 2016. Web. 03 Oct. 2016.

[8] Kaufman, Jill. “Northeast Farmers Grapple With Worst Drought in More Than a Decade.” NPR.org. NPR, 30 Aug. 2016. Web. 03 Oct. 2016.

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