With much of the country experiencing drought-like conditions, some New Jersey farmers are bracing for tough times while other area farmers have had a successful season.
In the past, Argos Farms in Lacey was affected by droughts, but owner Angela Martin said the family who runs the farm has been “blessed” this year.
“Our pumpkin patch and corn maze have grown beautifully,” she said. “We are blessed this year that Mother Nature is cooperating.”
The corn is approximately 5 feet tall and Martin expects it to grow to 10 feet, despite the unusually hot year and sporadic violent storms.
The farm will even be initiating its first country market this fall with vegetables, honey, oat milk, soap and more, Martin said.
“As farmers we depend on weather,” she said. “It was tough last year. Mother Nature is either our best friend or worst enemy.”
Farmers had to import products from upstate New York and Western Pennsylvania due to such a wet season, she said. Hurricane Irene especially inundated the farms.
“This region is doing really well,” Angela Martin’s husband Spyro said, adding that many areas in the Midwest are struggling. “We get a thunderstorm just whenever we need it.”
Their irrigation system, although not ideal, helps and acts like insurance, he said.
“The crops are doing really well,” he said. “I have no idea what the pumpkin crop will look like with the drought but they tend to do better in the heat.”
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, as of July 24, most of the country was experiencing either severe or extreme drought conditions, with some parts of the southern portion of the country being plagued with an exceptional drought.
The monitor classified the eastern United States, including New Jersey, as abnormally dry. As of August 7, the drought monitor reported that New Jersey was experiencing abnormally dry conditions but not at the intensity of a drought.
The temperature for most of the summer has ranged from the low 90s up to 100, and this year is on track to be the hottest year in history across the globe.
Regardless of those figures, Anvil Farms, the only wholesale farm in Lacey Township, also has been successful.
“I don’t think we’re experiencing a drought,” owner Tony Scafa said. “The entire northeast seaboard has had a lot of rain.”
While the heat affected some plants, others survived.
“I don’t depend on weather,” he said, adding that the 38-year-old farm utilizes a greenhouse and an irrigation system.
At Anvil, the farmers plant in the greenhouse before moving the crops outside, employee Linda Walter said. With the greenhouse, the farmers have the ability to control the plants until they’re ready to be moved into the ground.
The 10-acre farm also extends its harvest by staggered planting — planting varieties with staggered maturing dates.
“We grow a lot so it covers the bases. If one fails, we’ll know to take it out, and we’ll have the others to fall back on,” Walter said.
With 800 different tomato plants, six types of eggplant, four zucchinis, three cucumbers and more, the variety keeps the farm successful even during the hot and dry days.
The peppers tend to be negatively impacted by the heat,” Scafa said. “All plants are affected by the heat.”
Humidity has been an issue more so than heat, he said, allowing fungus to thrive. Those crops affected, such as some tomatoes, are taken out.
The eggplant and winter squash are doing really well, Walter said.
But it has been more difficult for other farmers in New Jersey.
A Rough Start
“We had a very rough start,” reported Lisa Liepe, who runs Liepe Farms in Hamilton Township with her husband, Matt. “We had such a warm winter and then our peaches were hit with frost in March and April. We had a decent spring, but it immediately turned into a drastically hot and humid summer, and then the storm crippled us.”
The sixth-generation farmers, who have 750 acres and also produce a variety of crops, lost electricity on their farm for eight days as a result of the derecho that struck the Mid-Atlantic Region on June 30.
Their steak tomatoes were broken. Leaves failed to cover their crops. As of July, Liepe Farms was coming up to speed, although their cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes and watermelons were still three weeks behind.
“We’re open until Thanksgiving, but we had to delay our opening by a week to 10 days,” Liepe said. “When you make your living in 16 weeks, that’s crucial.”
Liepe is hoping that despite the troubled start, the year’s not a total loss.
“Everybody’s beginning to recognize that we’re here and they’re stopping,” she said.
Liepe said her family’s farm had to irrigate every day when, ideally, they would normally irrigate once a week.
“It’s been extremely difficult and very expensive,” said Rich Lanza, owner of Lanza’s Blueberry Hill on Vienna Avenue in Egg Harbor City. “We have 20 percent more costs and it trickles down. It starts with irrigation and it effects fruit quality.”
Lanza is also irrigating more frequently and must use machines about 50 percent of the time to pick their blueberry crop. Lanza said they usually prefer handpicking their blueberries for quality purposes, but had to use machines because they were behind.
Franics Leader, a Galloway Township resident since 1989, is an organic CSA farmer who runs Growing Home on a piece of farmland on Moss Mill Road. He said the drought that has been debilitating to many farmers in the area and around the country hasn’t had much of an impact on his crops.
“I’m fortunate because I grow a variety, and I always have something to pick,” Leader said. “I get to choose what goes in the basket. There’s always plenty of volume so people are happy.”