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Record rains leave farmers strained

After record spring rains delayed planting and damaged crops, some local farmers are fighting to stay afloat.

In 2011, the yearly inches of rain more than doubled the average, leaving local farmers unable to plant their crops on time, which delayed growth and cut profitability by 20 percent, said Mike Strode, executive director of the Athens County Farm Service Agency.

“The rain stopped everything — nobody could plant anything,” Strode said. “Prices for everything from fuel to feed are up.”

Columbus normally receives 3.25 inches of rain during April, according to the National Weather Service; this year, the city saw 7.14 inches, an all-time record for the month.

“Old timers would say a ‘drought will test ‘you, but a flood will destroy you,’” Strode said.

Following the heavy rains, the Farm Service Agency requested a primary disaster designation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow eligible farmers to apply for low-interest emergency loans, according to an agency news release.

Farmers are eligible only if they purchased insurance for the crop, which leaves many smaller farmers without aid, Strode said.

“Smaller farmers, like ones at farmer’s markets, typically don’t have insurance,” Strode said. “If their crop is affected, that’s their income.”

Most of the farmers who peddle their produce at the Athens Farmers Market do not have enough acreage to have insurance, said Kip Parker, site manager for the Athens Farmers Market.

“Each farm was affected differently,” he said. “What people lost is different for everyone.”

Angie Starline, who runs Starline Organics with her husband Matt, said this year’s crop is the worst in the six years the two have been farming. After heavy rains, floods delayed planting for three months and damaged about 10 acres of the couple’s land.

Starline tends about 90 acres of land in Athens County that underwent more than $1,000 worth of damage after the spring rains, she said.

Cherry Orchards of Morgan County saw about a 20 percent drop in this year’s apple crop after the rains hurt pollination and helped fungus, owner Neil Cherry said.

Though Mitch Meadows, owner of Mitch’s Produce & Greenhouse in Meigs County, said the rains hit many other farms hard, he has had a great year.

“Believe it or not, the hot summer dried out most of the spring rains, and the produce caught back up,” Meadows said.

The flower crop was about 25 percent less than normal years, but the basic vegetables, such as peppers, onions and tomatoes, grew and sold well this year, he said.

The weather is always unpredictable, and you have to make adjustments, said Starline, adding that they had a heavy planting for the fall harvest to try to make up for the poor spring.

“No matter what you do in life, you always have to go with the flow,” she said. “You just have to keep your head up and keep going.”


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