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Ongoing Dry Weather Has Maine Farmers Worried

Maine's current dry spell is being felt widely by farmers in the state. Maine Agriculture Bureau Director Nancy McBrady says that growers without irrigation, who as of 2017 make up about 80 percent of industry in the state, are getting concerned.

“There's a lot of parched crops out there and, of course, you know, you have to make sure that livestock are well cared for, too,” McBrady says. Crops like hay and corn, McBrady says, need moisture soon.

"But, you know, everything from leafy greens can be quite thirsty, to some of the small fruits and vegetables. You know it is strawberry season right now."

University of Maine Cooperative Extension vegetable and small fruit specialist David Handley says the dry weather might draw customers to pick-your-own strawberry farms, but it's not good for the berries.

"It's nice that you don't have rain when you want customers out in your fields picking, because the last thing you want is a rainy weekend when you're a pick-your-own farm," he says. "But, on the other hand, you want to maintain good berry size and healthy plants, and that does require water."

Handley says more and more farmers have been turning to trickle or drip irrigation which uses less water and directs it more precisely. He says that works well for farmers with dependable sources of water. He says those with irrigation are spending a lot of time getting water to their plants.

“The vegetables that are real high-demand water ones - this would be sweet corn, melons and squash, they're really watering to beat the band as much as they can get on there," Handley says. "And I've already talked to some growers who said, you know, 'I can't water every field every time.'”

Handley says those large corn fields that don’t have access to irrigation could suffer.

Meanwhile, National Weather Service meteorologist Hunter Tubbs, in Gray, says it's been significantly drier than average for the past several weeks, and rainfall is expected to remain below average for the next three to four weeks.  

Updated 10:01 a.m. June 23, 2020.  

Ed is a Maine native who spent his early childhood in Livermore Falls before moving to Farmington. He graduated from Mount Blue High School in 1970 before going to the University of Maine at Orono where he received his BA in speech in 1974 with a broadcast concentration. It was during that time that he first became involved with public broadcasting. He served as an intern for what was then called MPBN TV and also did volunteer work for MPBN Radio.