Farmers Deal with Tricky WeatherJuly 23rd, 2012
Produce, honey, more take a hit this year
Iowa City Press-Citizen
By Alesha L. Crews
For 40 years, area residents have flocked to the Iowa City Farmers Market to stock up on produce and meat from local farms, peruse craft tables, and visit with friends and neighbors.
But this year, the combination of the drought and hotter-than-average temperatures are putting a strain on vendors at the weekly market unlike they have seen in years.
Vinton-based organic farmers Jim and Tamra Osborn have been selling an array of vegetables at the Iowa City market for 24 years, and Tamara said it has been at least 15 years since she can remember a summer that was this dry.
Their 60-acre farm has produced about half of what it normally does during a growing season, she said. The mild weather has led to an overpopulation of insects in the area, which makes organic farming more difficult.
“People like a mild winter, but a farmer likes a cold winter because (frost) goes deep and kills bugs,” she said.
The lack of rain has caused inconsistencies in how produce is developing and the farm has lost a substantial amount of its crop, she said, which has lead to high prices for their produce.
Adelyn’s Organic Garden owner Dave Campbell said the drought has prevented him from continuing with succession planting, replanting on land after produce has been harvested.
“What’s happened is when I plowed that ground, it was so dry that I was just plowing dust. There is no sub-soil moisture there,” he said.
Of the 2 acres of land that he normally uses, less than an acre is in production, he said.
He said the crops he already planted will be OK because his plot is small enough to water with a hose, but he said any new crops he normally would plant “have no chance” of survival.
The inconsistent weather also has impacted the honey Campbell harvests on the farm. His bees, which were very busy in the spring because of the mild winter, resulted in a “super honey crop,” but production has since dropped off.
Animal farmers also are struggling with the dry conditions. The creek that runs through Mount Vernon-based Pavelka’s Point Inc., usually provides drinking water for the farm’s stock cows, but this year it has almost dried up.
The farm is going to have to start pumping water for the animals, something Lois Pavelka said she has only had to do once before.
She said she’s noticed the animals have lacked energy the entire summer and usually can only be seen grazing and moving around after sundown.
With grass drying up, many animal farmers have had trouble feeding their herds. Pavelka said she counts herself as lucky because she and her partner have stockpiled hay for the last two years.
“We’ll be OK, but a lot of farmers don’t have that backlog of big round bales,” she said.
The heat also has made selling at area markets more taxing than in years past, leading Pavelka, who sells the farm’s pork, lamb and beef, to stop attending markets that can’t provide shelter to vendors because “the heat was way too much to deal with.”
“Even when you have tarps, I would be just miserable,” she said.
Reach Alesha L. Crews at firstname.lastname@example.org or 887-5414.