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Area farmers first face drought, followed by excess rain

Jennifer Sprouse • Jul 24, 2012 at 9:52 PM

Walking around any farmer’s market can give customers a pretty good indication of just how the growing season has been, and the Johnson City Farmer’s Market Saturday was no different.

There was plenty of produce to go around, but many farmers said the drought conditions, and even the surplus of rain, caused some major issues with either rotted produce or plants that had essentially died because of the extreme heat.

Randy Shipley, of Shipley Farms, said the season started out fine, but the heat and lack of rain made it tough for some of his crops that are completely dependent on rainfall.

“It started out a good season as far as planting and then the dry weather ... hit and the crops have really been struggling, unless you have water to water it,” Shipley said. “We have water on the tomatoes and the cucumbers and the cantaloupes, but the corn and the beans ... we can’t water. The beans and the corn have struggled. The corn I’ll be lucky to get my money back out of the corn this year.”

He said his first full crop of corn was lost and his second stream of corn that is now coming in was only averaging 3- to 4-feet tall, opposed to the normal 6-feet height of the plants.

Shipley said if the rain does continue at a steady rate, the rest of the season could turn things around for his corn production.

“You need at least a half inch of rain a week on the corn to keep it growing,” he said. “If we keep getting rain, normal rainfall, the corn is going to be a pretty good crop.”

While the rain was welcomed by all, John Matherly said the recent above normal rain was a help and a hazard for his tomato plants.

“The rain was a help and a hurt at the same time from the amount received. The amount that we did get became a curse because a lot of it (tomatoes) ripened up and busted and cracked. So, we lost quite a bit,” Matherly said. “Plus, it sat on blight. Because of too much moisture, you always get the fungus.”

Matherly said altogether he probably lost around 15-20 bushels where the tomatoes rotted on the vine.

Ken Nelson, of Nelson’s Farm in Limestone, said this growing season has been tough for all farmers in one way or another.

“The heat and the drought was terrible,” he said. “I didn’t think (the) corn was going to make it at all and finally we got some rain and it cooled down.”

While he expects to produce some corn this year, he said he’s only betting on 50 to 60 percent of corn he’s planted to make it.

“I grow a lot of corn, but I don’t know about it,” he said.

One product he’s grown in abundance this year would be his melons.

“The melons are great,” Nelson said. “The best I’ve ever had.”

Even with random weather conditions, all three farmers said this year’s farmer’s market has been successful so far.

“We’ve had a few bad days, but it’s been weather related,” Shipley said. “The farmer’s market has been real good. Customers are hunting local produce. That’s what they really want.”

The Johnson City Farmer’s Market is open from 7 a.m. untile 2 p.m. every Wednesday and Saturday during the market season in the parking lot on the corner of South Roan Street and State of Franklin Road.

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