Severe Drought Hits Majority Of Massachusetts
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Farmers in Massachusetts have been scrambling to get water to their crops. It's been one of the driest summers in recent memory. More than half the state is in severe drought. The lack of rain is challenging growers who haven't needed extensive irrigation in the past. Andrea Shea from member station WBUR in Boston reports.
SARAH LANG: Full buckets down this side, empty buckets down the other. We'll just get a line going.
ANDREA SHEA, BYLINE: At Drumlin Farm in Lincoln, Mass., farmer Sarah Lang deploys a dozen dirt-covered volunteers in a bucket brigade.
LANG: We're just going to do a bucket mob, so everybody can go back forth. Yep.
SHEA: They fill buckets, pails and watering cans from hundred-gallon drums in the back of a pickup. Then they walk through the dusty rows, watering thirsty Swiss chard. Crops manager Matt Celona says this is the first time in 11 years that he's had to resort to mass hand-watering.
MATT CELONA: It's a struggle for us. We had rain in the first week of June and a little bit in the first week of July, but totaling probably just over an inch, which is not enough. Now we're seeing some wilting in winter squash, beans, celeriac. That's the sound of potatoes being harvested.
SHEA: Drumlin's 25 acres support about 50 different crops for retail, area restaurants and a farm share program. Most of the vegetable and fruit farms in this state are small. Celona's doesn't use any irrigation. It relies on Mother Nature. The ongoing drought has Celona worrying about the future.
CELONA: Who knows, you know? If it's a one-year spike, then maybe we can go back to what we were doing and with confidence, but right now it's just - it's a troubling time (laughter).
SHEA: It's troubling for Katie Campbell-Nelson, too. She's a vegetable production educator at UMass Amherst Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment. Campbell-Nelson has been reaching out to local farmers and says paying for added labor and irrigation equipment cuts into their profits. While she hasn't heard of other bucket brigades...
KATIE CAMPBELL-NELSON: I do know farms that don't normally have irrigation are getting 250-gallon trucks or 500-gallon water tanks that they can use to reach their crops because some fields are pretty remote and far away. There are farmers whose irrigation ponds are drying up. And so they have to lay a lot more irrigation pipe.
SHEA: Chris Kurth at Siena Farms in Sudbury is one of them.
CHRIS KURTH: I've tried optimism. I've tried pessimism. I've tried religion. I've tried anarchy. I've tried everything (laughter) to make it rain.
SHEA: Kurth broke away from wrangling new irrigation lines, pumps and drip tape to sell his vegetables at the weekly Copley Square Farmers Market in Boston. He says he's lost most of the fava beans and shelling peas but hopes to cut losses with tomatoes and other hot crops that thrive in the sun and heat.
KURTH: We've had small losses so far. The big kind of looming question for us is completing our planting season for our valuable fall and winter crops.
SHEA: Even with isolated showers, it's estimated that some harvests in the state could be cut in half. If the U.S. Drought Monitor shifts its designation from severe to extreme in Massachusetts, farmers could be eligible for federal assistance. For NPR News, I'm Andrea Shea in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.