Farmers across the north country had their prayers answered, as bucketfuls of rain dropped from the sky onto sun-baked cornfields.
Watertown International Airport in Dexter recorded 1.9 inches of rain Thursday that started at about 4 a.m. and didn’t cease until sunset. Some farms in the northern and southern parts of the county received less than an inch, according to field reports, but most farmers’ crops soaked up at least 1.5 inches.
Farmer Ronald C. Robbins called the rainfall a “saving grace” for his 2,600-acre cornfield in Sackets Harbor. Scouting his land on Friday, he found that most of the 1,800 acres of corn that were planted between May 8 and 30 now are healthy again.
“The rain basically saved that corn crop, and it was a real gift from heaven to have the kind of steady rain we did,” Mr. Robbins said. “It was a real life saver.”
Like Mr. Robbins, most farmers here who waited to plant their crops in mid-May instead of late April are now doing well. Most of the crops planted in May were just starting to tassel and begin the pollination process, Mr. Robbins said, so the timing of the rain was almost perfect.
“Our later-planted corn that’s in the early stages of pollination will more than likely produce a valuable, marketable ear of corn. It might be shorter than normal (because of the drought), but it should be quality corn.”
The rain arrived too late to perk up the 700 acres that were planted in late April, however, because those crops started tasseling to grow ears about two weeks ago and sat in the sun for too long without any rain. That’s why “the corn has very poor ear growth because the pollination was uneven,” he said. “We’ll use it for (cattle) silage but it won’t have good nutrient value without the ears.”
Normally, sowing corn crops early is the best strategy for farmers because it allows more time for the crops to grow. But farmers who jumped the gun and planted their corn in late April are now the ones paying the consequences of the long drought, said Michael E. Hunter, field crops educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County.
“The earlier planted corn has been in the tassel stage for a couple of weeks and went through a stressful period without rain,” he said. “So that’s going to have quite the impact on that crop.”
A good portion of farmers in Jefferson County waited until mid-May to plant their crops, though, because rainfall during the first two weeks of the month prevented them from starting earlier. But because of the erratic weather, that waiting period turned out to be worth it.
“A lot of that hasn’t tasseled yet,” Mr. Hunter said, “so it’s not at that critical stage where it needs rain. If we have average rainfall in August it’s going to have a good chance.”
Hay crops, on the other hand, aren’t expected to recover as strongly. But, just like homeowners’ lawns that have dried up without rain, those fields are exhibiting signs of growth again.
“Alfalfa hay has obviously suffered a lot already, but this rain will help yields improve,” Mr. Hunter said. “We’ve had almost no rain since it was harvested in late June, but the hay is going to kick into gear now.”