Recent rain should help, farmers say

Right now, conditions are good for planting

By: Brian Shappell
   Though weather conditions could turn on local farmers this summer, farmers believe the rain of recent weeks could be a positive sign for the season to come.
   However, if the rain were to continue daily, it could be too much of a good thing.
   Local farmers, especially ones dealing in corn and soybeans, are in the full swing of planting season. And though New Jersey is still in a drought emergency, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection, recent rain has provided enough moisture for the topsoil for farmers to begin work.
   "I think it was very beneficial," said Bob Von Thun, a farm owner on Ridge Road. "We’ve had enough soil moisture to keep things going."
   "Given last year and the year before that, it’s encouraging that we can possibly get the normal amount of rainfall," said Cranbury farmer Alan Danser.
   The majority of the state was in a drought watch or drought warning since the fall.
   Hope Gruzlovic, a spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture, said the drought hasn’t yet had a negative effect on farming for the 2002 season.
   "There’s enough moisture in the upper layer of the soil for farmers to do their work," she said. "It’s something we have to be mindful of, but we’re off to a pretty good start."
   But despite the recent rain, DEP spokeswoman Elaine Makatura said the state is still far behind the normal water supply because of the lack of rain in recent years and months. During a three-month period starting Feb. 2, Middlesex County received 8 inches of rainfall, which is 3 inches less than the normal amount, according to the DEP’s New Jersey Drought Information Web site.
   "The Northeast Reservoir has gone up to a little over 60 percent, but normally, it would be at 90 percent," Ms. Makatura said. "We still need steady rain over the next two months. The driest, heaviest water-use months are still ahead of us."
   She also said the central portion of the state did not get as much of the needed rainfall as southern and northern areas.
   However, steady rain over the next three weeks could actually hurt the farmers by seriously impeding the planting of crops, according to Mr. Von Thun and Mr. Danser.
   ""We’ll get off to a late start if we get rain all week, but right now we’re about where we need to be," Mr. Von Thun said.
   "Rains over the last week are actually impeding planting," said Mr. Danser, vice president of the Middlesex County Agricultural Development Board.
   Still, Mr. Danser said the rain is encouraging because the county has received a below-normal amount of rain for the last five years. He said the year that was closest to normal was 1999 and that was only because of the destructive Hurricane Floyd.
   "If you take that one away, we’ve been below by a significant amount for at least five years," he said.
   But in their usual manner, local farmers said they are not going to lose sleep worrying about what the 2002 season has in store.
   "There’s not a whole lot you can do — just hope," Mr. Von Thun said.