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Recent heavy rains delay summer crops for local farmers
Glen Cook picks arugula Friday on his White County farm, Cedar Hollow Farm, on a muddy morning. Despite the obvious benefits of rain, recent high amounts of rainfall has complicated farming this growing season.

On a sunny, steamy Friday morning, Glen Cook harvests kale while his wife, Caroline, picks beets in a nearby field.

They’re getting ready to sell at the Historic Downtown Gainesville Market on the Square later that day. Their daughters help in washing what is brought in, getting the produce ready for discerning shoppers that afternoon.

The only sign that a fierce thunderstorm came through the night before is some raindrops left on the plants themselves and the mud, which provides for a slippery experience through the tidy, organized rows.

It’s this mud, with rainfall every few days, that has some farmers on edge over their summer crops.

It turns out, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

“It is a problem,” said Cook, owner of Cedar Hollow Farm in Cleveland. “I would say that probably the No. 1 problem is that as wet as it is, it’s very difficult to get in to work the ground, or get the weeds pulled out.

“When I was picking some potatoes, some of the new potatoes are actually rotting in the ground.”

In 2012, Gainesville saw a total of 49.87 inches of rain for the entire year. So far this year, there have been 36.23 inches. February was a particularly wet month, receiving 6.37 inches of rain compared to February 2012’s total of 2.43.

This past May saw 7.68 inches compared to 3.68 in 2012.

Visitors to local farmers markets may notice this year’s crops are trickling in more slowly than normal, with farmers blaming the rain for their inability to work the land.

Angel Rushing of Shook’s Family Farm in Cleveland said that she expects to see her summer crops come in over the next couple of weeks.

“Usually, we’re at the market the first week of June,” she said, noting that her basic summer crops include tomatoes, squash and beans. She said that she just noticed the first of the beans on the plants a few days ago, so they should be ready to harvest shortly.

“The thing is, your soil has to be dry enough before you can plow it, or it will be real clumpy,” she explained. “Soil needs to be aerated.”

With rain seemingly in the forecast every few days, farmers are finding there is not enough time for the ground to dry out and become workable before the clouds gather again.

And it’s not just the excess of rain. The cooler days of March and April also played havoc on plants.

“I would say that the lateness is not due so much to rain, as it is the fact that our springtime warmed up and cooled off. The temperatures fluctuated so badly,” Cook said. “I lost my first two plantings of sweet corn to that.”

Jody Farmer, a Hall County-based farmer with crops of wheat and soybeans, estimates he is around 30 days behind schedule.

“I have a bunch of bottom land, and it’s too much rain,” he said. His land totals to around 900 acres, and is sprawled across locations in Northeast Georgia.

While bottom land is what farmers tend to gravitate to, as it holds water more easily during a drought, it can be a detriment in times of excess rain, local farmer David White said.

“I’ve talked to some who are way behind because they just can’t get in to plow or plant,” he said. “And some that did plant, but they can’t get in to cultivate the weeds.”

White, who coordinates the Hall County Farmers Market on Jesse Jewell Parkway, echoed Rushing in saying that summer crops are just starting to come in.

Hall County Cooperative Extension Coordinator Michael Wheeler said that a lot of growers he has talked to said they’d rather have rain than not have it.

“The one caveat there is, when your fields are muddy, you can’t get in and plant or mow or hay, or do anything in the field,” he said. “So they’ve had to wait for the soil to dry out. And it seems like every fifth or sixth day, we get a good rain, right when the fields start to look really good and dry.”

Those effects were certainly felt by Cook, as he looked out over an onion patch nearly overrun by weeds.

“That’s a good example,” he said. “You just can’t get in, and the weeds keep growing.”

He plans to get the onions out soon, and then till the land for reuse before the weeds go to seed.

Cook disagrees with Wheeler, saying he’d rather have less rain and need to irrigate rather than have excessive moisture.

He used his strawberry crop to explain.

“The rain does two things,” he said. “It does make the berry deteriorate quicker, and it also seems to dilute the flavor. Before a berry is harvested, if I can irrigate it and put on just what they need, those berries will have a lot more flavor to them than if they get an inch of rain.”

He also said that high amounts of rain can lead to disease in tomatoes. For this year, Cook placed his tomatoes under a canopy, which he said is called a “high tunnel.” The covering allows enough sunlight in but also prevents the rain from soaking the plants.

The National Weather Service is predicting a rain-free weekend, but chances of thunderstorms increase Monday into Tuesday.

Cook sells his crops at the Historic Downtown Gainesville Market on the Square. Despite the inconveniences and downfalls of the rain amounts this year, he seems to not mind so much.

“When it comes to the weather, farmers can always find something to complain about,” he said grinning.

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