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Athens farmers experience average season after a wet 2015

The success of a crop is often in the hands of Mother Nature on a year-to-year basis, putting farmers at her mercy. But this year, she was considerably mild. 

The 2015 growing season was exceptionally saturated with rain, with eight to 15 inches falling in June of 2015, according to a previous Post report. This June, though, about four to five inches fell in Athens, according to the National Weather Service.

Last year, that heavy rainfall led to problems such as root disease, mushy berries and cracked grapes.

As for the 2016 season, Rodney Nipert, owner of Bodacious Berries in Amesville, described the conditions he dealt with as “typical."

Neil Cherry, owner of Cherry Orchards in Crooksville, Ohio, also said the most recent season was average, but overall, he said he fared better last growing season despite all of the rain. Cherry attributed that to a “freak freeze” in April that froze all of his peaches, one of Cherry Orchards' main produce products.

“I knew it was going to be cold, but I wasn’t expecting 21 (degrees),” Cherry said.

The freeze that ruined Cherry’s peaches is one example of the sort of curve balls that are regularly thrown at farmers. 

While Cherry said he considered this year’s weather to be favorable, no season is without bumps in the road, which farmers are used to dealing with. Last week, Cherry Orchards saw a four-inch rain shower, which Cherry said was much-needed — though too much at one time can be harmful to certain crops, such as his grapes, which swelled and split.

“I was picking (the grapes) a week ago (prior to the rain) for market, and they were just perfect — there were no split ones, no bird damage, no bees. It’s the perfect example of the perfect rain causing a lot of damage in a certain crop,” Cherry said. “There’s an unlimited amount of variables in the crops. This year, other than that one frost night, has really been an ideal growing season for us.” 

In one way, last year’s excess rainfall actually helped Cherry, saving him money on the farm’s electric bills. The rainfall sufficiently kept Cherry’s crops watered, lessening the amount of irrigation required.

Cherry and Nipert use irrigation systems to keep their crops hydrated when the climate has been dry for a certain period of time. Several ponds around Cherry’s farm siphon into a smaller pond located at the highest point of his farm. Gravity then handles the rest of the process, sending water throughout the irrigation system.

Irrigation is one way farmers are able to deal with the changes in climate they experience every year. Nipert said the changes in climate he has seen over his 11 years of farming are consistent.

“My crop is coming up earlier in general,” Nipert said. “The springs are warm sooner. Usually it was more the middle of April before I had much growth, and now even the last week in March, I can see growth.”

The most valuable tool a farmer can possess when dealing with an ever-changing climate is experience, Nipert said.

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“I just feel a lot more confident and competent dealing with the raspberries now that I’ve had them for ten years. I can anticipate and know when the water is critical and when it isn’t … just gaining knowledge from doing it,” Nipert said.

The unpredictability of nature makes every year different from the next for farmers. But Cherry said it’s all part of the job.

“So there’s all this give and take. Some years end up being better than other years. But overall, it’s just part of what farming is — it’s the weather … You never know,” Cherry said.


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