Nichole Hill

Nichole Hill, of Hill Farms in Mineral Point, restocks produce at the Ebensburg Farmer’s Market on Saturday, July 6, 2019. Hill, who’s been growing organic produce for about 16 years, farms about 180 acres and dedicates 7 to 8 acres to organic fruits and vegetables. Last year’s wet weather hurt many farmers, including Hill, who does not use any fungicides or pesticides, which made her crops even more susceptible to disease.

Last year’s wet weather made it tough for local farmers to plant on time, but also affected the quality of the crops they were able to harvest. 

Aside from dodging a few afternoon showers to get planting in, most farmers say this year’s weather has been more cooperative, even if planting some crops was a little delayed. 

The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau said many farmer-owned markets would have sweet corn ready for Fourth of July picnics, despite unfavorable weather this spring, in a press release issued this week. 

“We were pleasantly surprised to learn that many farmers will have sweet corn available to sell to consumers to include as part of their Fourth of July picnics,” wrote Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Rick Ebert. “We anticipated that record rainfall across the state this year would have put more of a damper on sweet corn production and were happy to learn that the crop is in better shape than expected.” 

While most farms contacted by the state farm bureau said they’d have sweet corn ready for Independence Day, some farmers said they planted the crop on time, but it didn’t grow fast enough due to too much rain and not enough sunlight or heat. 

Some farmer’s markets and roadside stands throughout the state typically don’t have local sweet corn until at least the middle of July, but may sell produce from other parts of the state or a southern state, according to the state farm bureau.  

“We are encouraging consumers to visit farm markets and roadside stands in their communities to access fresh food and to engage in conversations with farmers about how they raise food from the fields to the market,” Ebert said. 

Jim Benshoff, a vegetable farmer who typically sells produce at the Ebensburg farmer’s market and the market on his farm in Summerhill Township, said this planting season has been better than last year, but wasn’t without some weather-related issues. 

After he planted his annual potato crop, four straight days of rain caused Benshoff to lose 2 acres of potatoes. 

But last year’s heavy rains, including the effects of Hurricane Florence in September, poured 5 inches of rain on Benshoff’s fields in a matter of days, which caused him to lose a majority of his late potato crop. 

“We weren’t hammered this year like we were last year,” Benshoff said. “What’s growing looks pretty good. We’re getting some decent stretches of weather.” 

Craig Rose, whose family owns a 30-acre farm in Cessna, Bedford County, said he had a late start for planting this year due to rain. 

“The weather, it limits how early we can get things in, the yield, the quality,” Rose said. “We can’t charge triple the price when we get one-third of the yield.” 

Nonetheless, he and his family are in full swing selling the produce they can at the weekly Bedford Farmer’s Market and the family’s own market off Route 56. 

Benshoff said it’s not just weather that has the power to negatively affect his crops. 

Last year, hot weather and rain contributed to black rot of about 90 percent of his cabbage crop, but the deer population in the forested areas surrounding his farm land is mostly to blame, he said. 

Deer also cost Benshoff about one-third of his pumpkin crop last fall. 

“I can handle market changes, fluctuating prices,” Benshoff said. “I can’t fight the deer and I can’t fight the weather. Those are two things I have no control over.” 

Bob Davis, of Colver, who grows corn and hay, said he often sees deer snacking on his corn crops as he’s out in his fields. 

Davis decided against planting any sweet corn last year due to weather, but said he was able to plant about 20 acres of field and sweet corn this year. 

“Most of the corn looks good,” he said. 

Davis said he’s also been able to harvest hay, which was difficult last year due to muddy ground and hay that wouldn’t dry out in between frequent showers. 

Benshoff said his farm will have beans, sugar snap peas, beets, tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, and other produce for sale once it’s harvested. He also planted his first batch of asparagus this year. 

“As soon as we get something ready, we’ll be open,” Benshoff said. 

Davis also said he’ll be selling sweet corn and other produce at the Ebensburg Farmer’s Market eventually, but nothing was quite ready for the first sale on Saturday. 

Cassie Hess, who owns Somerset’s Hess Family Farm Market along with her husband, Thad, said their early sweet corn looks good. 

“So far, for us, it looks promising,” Cassie Hess said.  

Last year’s heavy rains made it difficult to accomplish planting, but also increased the changes for disease of crops that had been planted. 

“It was definitely challenging,” Cassie Hess said. “But it often turns out better than you think it will.” 

For farmers, crops sometimes do better than expected, while others fall short of the expectations. 

For example, Cassie Hess said the farm’s strawberry harvest was light, but the quality of the crop was great. 

From February through August, the family plants something about every week – from flowers to green beans, cucumber and squash, corn, tomatoes, strawberries and more. 

“We have something growing year round,” she said, with greenhouses used in the winter months and vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage harvested in the fall. 

“You always have to be thinking ahead.”

​Jocelyn Brumbaugh is a reporter for the Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter @JBrumbaughTD.