Streams

Local Crops Feel The Heat

Thursday, July 19, 2012

farmers market, produce, vegetables, groceries, apples Apples on display at a farmers market in Bowling Green (Brigid Bergin/WNYC)

While drought conditions exist in large swaths of the country, here in the tri-state region, climate experts say it’s only “abnormally dry.” That may be good news for beach bums, but the heat may “burn” the quantity and the quality of local crops.

According to reports released Thursday from the U.S. Drought Monitor, which follows conditions across the United States, the Northeast is drier and hotter than normal, with moderate drought conditions in a portion of western New York.

While corn crops in the Midwest have been destroyed by drought, experts say there’s still a chance for New York’s crop.

“If we miss out on the rain and nothing comes in the next 7-14 days, our yields will be off 65 percent,” warned Bill Cox, a professor of crop and soil sciences at Cornell University.

Since corn is planted later in New York, the crop is just reaching the critical, “tassling and silking period,” which Cox said corn in the Midwest reached about a week ago.

During that period, if it’s extremely hot and dry, and there’s not much water in the soil, the corn won’t pollinate well, according to Cox.

The news is worse for apple farmers, which already saw their crops hit hard by unseasonably warm weather in March, followed by typically cold weather in April.  Their yields may be down by fifty percent, estimates Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association. 

He said the latest weather pattern has a silver lining for an already battered apple crop.

“In a sense, the dry weather isn’t impacting us as much as if we were to have a full crop because the tree just isn’t sucking that much moisture out of the ground because it doesn’t have as much fruit to feed,” Allen explained.

In Central Park, rain levels are 6 inches below normal, which isn’t good.  But comparing this period, Jan. 1 – Jul. 18, to previous years, it only ranks as the 26th driest year in the park’s history, according to data gather by Jessica Rennels, climatologist at the NOAA and the regional climate center at Cornell University. 

The driest year for the Park in this same period was 1954, when only 14 inches of rain fell according to Rennels.

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