Last week a Massachusetts nursery was holding strawberry plants with Craig Pallman’s name on them.
But the South Abington Twp. farmer, known for his family’s popular you-pick strawberry patches, couldn’t take them just yet.
Soaking rain has delayed planting, stunted growth, and generally put fruit and veggie farmers on edge across the region as the spring sowing season comes to a close.
“We can’t do anything, so there’s no sense in bringing the plants in here and staring at them,” he said. “We can’t string more than two days of fair weather together. ... Everybody is dealing with it at different levels, and it’s not good.”
Strawberries produce fruit year after year, and he expects a crop this year in Pallman’s strawberry patches, he said confidently. That said, the plants haven’t filled out as they should by this time of the season.
Farmers must be consummate weather-watchers. They’re slaves to it. But this past year has dumped an overabundance of wet on them.
“We haven’t had a dry spell to speak of since before last spring,” Pallman said.
The week before Mother’s Day, Trevor Brown called off his farmhands.
With no end in sight for steady, drenching rain, the owner of Purple Pepper Farms in Overfield Twp. decided instead to pot flowers for the holiday and hold out for a break in the weather.
“It’s still early May. If we can get next week in, and the week after, then we will not have any problems,” he said. “If next week is super rainy, then we’re going to have a lot of issues.”
In Luzerne County, Larry O’Malia isn’t thinking just about the rain. He’s got his eyes on the river, too.
Flood stage for the Susquehanna River in Wilkes-Barre is 22 feet.
For O’Malia, whose farm is upriver in Plains Twp., he starts worrying about flooding at 18 feet. That’s when water starts cutting across the middle of his farm from both sides threatening his corn fields, cabbage, lettuce and potato patches and the broccoli.
“That crosspath, it just keeps getting bigger and wider,” he said.
Last year the river crested at nearly 29 feet on Aug. 15 and buried parts of his fields under 10 feet of water, he said.
“Even when the river went down, it’s too late to start a farm all over again,” he said. “By the time you dry out, you wouldn’t be planting stuff until the beginning of September.”
Farmers plan crops months in advance. So the prospect of making corrections this late in the game is mostly dissolved.
“You remain optimistic and you keep telling yourself that this cycle has to change,” Pallman said.
Farmers saw a break in the rain last week, but meteorologists call for more off-and-on rain in the coming days.
If it persists through the summer and fall, growers, Pallman included, might consider changing course when planning next year’s harvest.
“As we sit here right now, there’s no turning back,” he said. “You bought the plants, but if you can’t use them you’re just discarding them.”