By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILFORD — Dry conditions brought on by a nearly 8-inch deficit in precipitation so far this year is forcing local farmers to rely on irrigation to help them produce the crops that local consumers have come to expect during the summer months, driving up their costs and making it more difficult to manage their operations.
Andy Howe at Beans & Greens, located in Gilford Meadow, said the drop in the water table which has taken pace in recent months reduces the impact of irrigation during the hot and dry weather which the area faces for the foreseeable future.
"The deeper the drought gets, the more challenging it becomes," said Howe, adding that irrigation has no lasting effect at present because the water simply trickles down into the soil to a level too low to be drawn back up by the root systems of the crops.
"If it weren't for black plastic and drip tapes, it would be much worse,'' he said, adding that he has had to have two of his employees devote themselves full-time to the irrigation effort, effectively reducing his work force by 10 percent and slowing the planting of other crops.
In addition to the crops grown in Gilford Meadow, where water is available from Gunstock Brook, Howe also has crops planted in fields at Timber Hill Farm on Gunstock Hill Road, where he uses two conservation ponds for irrigation. "We have to be careful with that water. If we drain it down too far, it takes two to three weeks for the ponds to recharge."
Laconia meteorologist Russ Hobby said nearly half an inch of rain fell on the area early Wednesday but that didn't make much of a dent in the precipitation deficit.
"We were 1.86 inches below normal in April and 1.58 inches below in May," he said. "This month we're 1.73 inches below normal and all of the commercial farms in the area are having to irrigate,'' said Hobby.
He said that the numbers recorded at his Lakeport location show 10.51 inches of precipitation through May, compared to a historical average of 16.55 inches. That's 6.04 inches below normal, and when June's 1.73 deficit is factored in, the deficit to this point is 7.77 inches.
Howe said that the lack of rain didn't lower hay production, which is said is slightly ahead of last year's crop. "We've had great weather for haying, although I see the fields are all brown in some areas, which could mean the second crop won't be as good as usual."
Jeff Keyser of Ramblin' Vewe Farm on Morrill Street, said his hay production was also up over last year, from 4,300 to 4,800 bales, but the fields he mows in Belmont and at Prescott Farm on White Oaks Road in Laconia haven't been as productive this year.
The hay he raises is primarily used to feed the sheep at Rambln' Vewe and he also raises crops at Belmont and Sanbornton locations that his wife sells at the Shepherd's Hut Market at the farm. He said he's grateful for the rain this week at his garden locations but knows that he'll have to irrigate those fields and is hoping that the well at one of those locations won't run dry.
Matthew Swain of Sanbornton, who harvests hay for Swain Farm on Hunkins Pond Road, which is owned by his father, David, said that his hay harvest is down 10 to 15 percent this year, and that if conditions continue to remain dry, "we could be in serious hot water."
He grows crops at Heritage Farm, also on Hunkins Pond Road, not far from his father's farm, and says that he's had to irrigate those fields and is hoping that the well won't run dry.
Picnic Rock Farm on Rte. 3 in Meredith is also irrigating its crops this year according to an employee there, who said that Ward Bird, the farm manager, was to busy in the fields to talk about the dry conditions.
Elsie Bong from Malaysia, an intern at Beans Greens Farm in Gilford, gets ready to pick some summer squash at the farm, which has had to rely on its irrigation system to produce crops this summer. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)