2018-08-23 / Front Page

Rain, rain, where did you go?

Storms missing county
By Jen Murphy
of the Enterprise staff

“We got about 10,000 sprinkles yesterday.”

That’s hardly enough to save a corn crop, added Kasson Township farmer Tom Shimek.

Parts of Leelanau County have had little to no rain for the month of August, causing corn leaves to twirl and touches of fall color to prematurely start on some trees.

The volunteer weather station in Maple City has recorded 1.44 inches of rainfall so far this month, which is about an inch below normal. But the pop-up thunderstorm responsible for most of that moisture failed to pass through the northern part of the county, and dropped less than a half inch of rain at the Northwest Michigan Reserch Station in Benzie County.

The station has had .57 inches of rain through yesterday compared to the average for the same period of 2.28 inches.

Row crops and even orchards are hurting.

“It’s kind of a disaster year,” Shimek said.

CORN IN this Leland Township field has dried up from a lack of rain, and will produce poor yields. CORN IN this Leland Township field has dried up from a lack of rain, and will produce poor yields. National Weather Service in Gaylord meteorologist Mike Boguth said the Leelanau Peninsula missed out on yesterday’s chance for big rain that soaked the middle part of the state and left parts of Wisconsin flooded.

The Upper Peninsula, likewise, has been a frequent recipient of passing storms.

It’s a trend Boguth doesn’t see changing soon.

“Once you lock in, it’s hard to break out of a dry pattern,” Boguth said. “That’s what we’ve seen all summer. That’s how you get into drought developments.”

Worst hit - field crops

Corn, oats, soybeans and hay have taken the brunt of drought conditions. It’s those crops that need rain in August to develop properly.

Shimek said he is anticipating a 50 percent yield for his oats, straw and corn. He’s had one cutting of hay compared to the normal yield by now of three.

And due to the lack of rain, much of his corn will not fill out. The poor harvest and partially-formed ears means Shimek will try to salvage the crop by making corn silage to feed his 160 head of cattle.

“We usually harvest the corn for grain, so that’s where we’re at,” he said.

He will keep the oats. According to Shimek, the price for oats is not good this year, so it’s more economical for him to use them on his farm.

District No. 6 Commissioner Casey Noonan, who grows 200 acres of field corn in southwest Leelanau County, shares Shimek’s disappointment. He also anticipates harvesting about half of a normal crop.

“This year seems to be pretty extreme,” he said. “I personally don’t remember anything like this. This is probably the driest year that I remember. We’ve been lucky with some timely rains to get something out of our corn crop.”

And less corn will mean less cattle for Noonan.

He explained. “Last year, we filled the barn with as many cattle as it holds, and we had extra (corn). This year, we have just enough to feed less … We might get 150, and they’re going to weigh more. We will have to pay more for that cattle - we’ll have the same amount of money tied up in less cattle. We bought them (the cattle) at 600 pounds last year. This year we will have to buy them at 750 to 800 pounds.”

Apples may be smaller

For orchardists with little to no irrigation, apples may not size up. That’s not a good thing for farmers like Jim Bardenhagen, who is getting ready to harvest Gingergolds — the first of his apples — next week.

“Generally, (no rain) makes smaller apples,” said the Bardenhagen Farms owner. “You don’t get the size you’d normally get. And sometimes it can put a stress on the tree.”

That stress can cause leaves to droop, turn yellow and fall off. If that happens, Bardenhagen explained, the tree won’t be able to absorb critical nutrients through its leaves, which has a negative result on the overall health and strength of the tree.

“It affects next year’s crop as well,” he said. “It makes the trees susceptible to frost damage in spring, the buds won’t be as strong and there may be possible tree or wood damage if we get a cold winter.”

Bardenhagen added the lack of rain particularly affects trees planted in sandy ground. “Heavier ground will hold more water,” he said. “We have a mixture of both (at our farm in Suttons Bay). We have areas that are heavier than we’d like to see, and we have areas that are sandier than we’d like to see.”

But for all of his trees, he’d like to see rain soon. “I don’t know how much longer they can last,” he said.

So Bardenhagen is keeping his fingers crossed.

“There’s a lot of field work to do to put in cover crops,” he added. “It’s hard to work the ground right now. It’s hard and you need a nice rain to soften it up.”

Harvest done, but cherries affected

The tarts and sweets may be off the trees, but the trees are already working to produce fruit for next year.

Bardenhagen, who also grows cherries, said the dry conditions will affect next year’s harvest. “The trees form their buds right after harvest. Their terminal buds start to set, and it’s a critical time. It’s so important to keep the leaves on the trees past September first so they can build up reserves in the roots and have good strong buds going into the winter.”

Jim Eckerle knows this well. He grows between 300 and 400 acres of tart cherries.

And right now, he’s concerned about mites.

“We need a good, hard rain,” Eckerle said. “A good hard rain would help take some of the mites off the trees. If we could get them off, it’s just that much less stress on the tree.”

The mites, he explained, suck on the leaves and take nutrients out of the tree, which stresses the tree and can result in winter damage and weak buds net year.

“Theres alot of different things that can happen,” he said. “I sure don’t have all the answers, but there really isn’t a whole lot we can do. We wait for the results… Let God take of it.”

Grapes are safe crop

Grapes seem to be Leelanau’s only crop that may be unaffected by the lack of moisture in the air. In fact, grapes do well in dry weather.

“The grapes like dry weather - grapes are probably the most resilient crop to drought,” said Doug Matthies of Windwhistle Farm and Chateau Fontaine. “They don’t like wet ground.

That’s because the root systems of mature vines run deep. Very deep. In fact, according to Matthies, grape roots go down 20 to 60 feet.

New vines are a different story. With only two to three-foot root systems, these young plants can be affected by a lack of moisture.

“The only place where we’re really seeing issues is in one and two year-old plantings,” Matthies said. “It won’t really affect any grape quality, but we are putting in temporary irrigation to satisfy them.”

So, will it ever rain?

Leelanau County may see a few showers Friday and Friday night and again through much of the weekend into next week, according to Boguth. “It will be hit-and-miss, on and off showers,” he said. “People that do see rain will see some decent amounts.”

Boguth added that Leelanau County will not have widespread rain until the fall season. “For us, it takes until the fall system and you get more lake help with the rain. Right now, you’re not getting any lake help, and unfortunately that only happens when it gets colder.”

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