No Pumpkins This Year?

Farmers struggle with the overabundance of rain.

Farmer Mark Lichtenwalner said he knows how to cope with heavy rain hitting the Lehigh Valley, courtesy of  Tropical Storms Irene and Lee.

“We have an eight-month-old English Sheep Dog named Sadie, and I sit between that puppy and a beer,’’ he said. “Then I’m all set.
“The only problem with the dog is she’s afraid of sheep. We have to work on that.”

But Lichtenwalner, owner of a farm on Indian Creek Road in Lower Macungie, gets serious when he recalls past flooding problems.

“I’ve seen this happen before,” he said. “It’s somewhat close to the level when Hurricane Agnes came though the Harrisburg area in 1972.’’

Agnes, as Lichtenwalner recalled, poured 18 inches of rain in two days, leaving 220,000 Pennsylvanians homeless. President Nixon declared the state a disaster.

While Lichtenwalner waits out the weather, other area farmers and dealing with record rainfall in August and another deluge in early September.

On Aug. 27 Irene brought five inches of rain to the Lehigh Valley, making August the wettest month in history at Lehigh Valley International Airport with 13.5 inches of rain. Lee followed with a predicted three to seven inches of rain through Sept. 8.

What’s a farmer to do? They don’t try to dig up potatoes.

“We had 40 farmers up in Bath recently to learn about potatoes,” said Bob Lieby, Lehigh County Director of the Penn State Extension. “We couldn’t get into the field to mud the potatoes out.
“We couldn’t do the demonstration.“

Lieby said there is damage to farms throughout the Lehigh Valley, and produce customers will see it in dwindling harvests. Usually, that means higher prices.

“The soil is so wet right now,” he said. “A peach tree starts blowing around as it did with Irene and the root system can be destroyed. Branches are down in apple orchards and some apples were knocked right off the trees by Irene.

“Some of the field and sweet corn has been hard to harvest because the soil is saturated and the high winds cause the corn to lay over.“

Lieby said if you fly into the airport, an observer can see major areas throughout the Lehigh Valley were corn has flattened out -- at a time when the harvests are moving at a slow pace.

“You can’t see this from the roads,” he said.

He added that soy bean, alfalfa and hay haven’t been limited in growth, but farmers need clear weather to harvest them.

“Wet weather promotes fungus disease, especially on pumpkins,’’ he said. “It affects the foliage and  that stops the pumpkins from getting larger.’’

Even birds have flown against farmers this season.

“The bird damage is high,” he said. “We hear that from the vineyards. Can’t explain it.”

George DeVault, of  Upper Milford, spends a good amount of his time leading the township fire department and running for township supervisor. But he’s upset about his vegetable and flower farm.

“It’s been a horrible year,” he said. “We had a wet spring, then a dry spell and record heat. Now this. This is been the most challenging year in the 30 years I’ve been farming.“

He said most of  crops have been placed in greenhouses.

“Anything in the field is really taking a beating,“ he said. “Among the vegetables, tomatoes have been hardest hit. Too much rain and they start splitting.”

Keith Hausman of Hausman Fruit Farm in Coopersburg is known for driving a tractor to farm markets and putting fruit and vegetable in the back.

“Perhaps I may bring a boat instead of a tractor,” he laughed.

“We‘re not used this this, We had more rain in a shorter period of time this week, compared to Irene. The is flooding from streams on our farm. There’s no place for water to go, but on the top.’’

He predicted short seasons for both fruit and produce.

“At least we don’t have the problems we see in West Texas,” he said. “No rain.”

Lichtenwalner said the season isn’t a total loss.

“We can pretty much salvage everything,” he said. “The pumpkins are holding off to be harvested later this week. There could be a shortage. The melons are finished. We still have tomatoes growing.

 “Our hardest hit was sweet corn. The yield is half.’’

At least Sadie the dog is getting plenty of attention.


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