Abnormally dry conditions, drought strain Mich. farmers
Michigan farmer Stephen Goetz is taking extra measures to keep his crops from dying during a long-lasting, statewide dry spell.
Goetz, who runs a farm with his extended family in Riga, near Toledo, grows everything from broccoli to cucumbers and corn and said last month was set to be the driest July on record for the area.
"The crops just shrivel up and wilt down. If we don’t irrigate them, they die," he said. "Every year, there seems to be a drought, but not quite this bad."
Goetz problem is something the agriculture industry has been struggling with throughout the state this summer amidabnormally dry conditions.
The U.S. Drought Monitor on Tuesday reported that just over 43 percent of the state was under abnormally dry conditions; there was a moderate drought for over 25 percent. The reports came ahead of a heavy rainfall in southeast Michigan Tuesday that some meteorologists say couldhelp.
Mid-southern and northeast Michigan, as well as the Thumb, were the areas hit hardest, according to a map released by the drought monitor, which put the regions under a moderate drought classification.
The last few summers have been more dry than normal, according to Kate Thiel, field crops specialist with Michigan Farm Bureau. She says this is worrisome for the agriculture industry because it makes up a major portion of Michigan's economy.
"You used to hear folks talk about these nice, overnight rains that were slow and steady. That’s not something we’ve seen in several years," Thiel said. "You just don’t know when you're going to get rain and where. Meteorologists do their best to predict those things, but in the agricultural industry, we understand those factors are out of our control. It's something folks are willing to ride through."
These dry conditions are not uncommon, says Trent Frey, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in White Lake Township.
"There were areas of moderate drought last October, as well as July into August," he said. "It happens from time to time where things become abnormally dry due to the nature of weather patterns."
Irrigation is a common means for farmers to keep their crops alive. Goetz said he put in a third well last year to make sure there's enough water to outlast the dry conditions.
But this year, even plants that don't normally need irrigation — such as carrots, potatoes and eggplants — needed extra water, he noted.
Goetz, whose family has farmed the same land since 1905, said the crops will be fine for a couple weeks and he expects them to stay alive through harvest. But without more rain,it could delay the farm's pumpkins until November, past Halloween.
There's good news, though, for the more parched regions: the drought areas are not expected to expand, according to Frey, and there is a chance that the state might even see above average rainfall this month.
On the other hand, Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center, says while isolated rain storms will help local areas, on the whole, the drought will likely persist into the fall.
"Drought is classified as slow onset, slow recovery," he said. "In the summer months, with precipitation being quite variable, you could see adjacent areas get no rain and some get quite a bit of rain."
For the most part, Michigan farms seem to be in decent shape, with dry conditions delaying some crops, said Walt Gajewski, manager of the Farmington Farmers Market.
"Corn production stalled a little bit, but it will catch up," Gajewski said. "We need rain in order to get those ears to grow."
The reality of a drought, Goetz says, is that farmers have to make decisions about what plants need more water and which ones can get by with less.
"Some things had to get sacrificed a little," he said. "Our business supports three families, so we have to make it work."