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Severe drought means harvests will be smaller in Massachusetts

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Around the country, severe droughts made worse by climate change are affecting farmers, ranchers and homeowners. We're going to check in with reporters in three states - Massachusetts, Texas and California. First, Jill Kaufman from New England Public Media reports the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared the drought in most of Massachusetts a natural disaster.

JILL KAUFMAN, BYLINE: In Granby, Mass., at Red Fire Farm, some fields are looking worse than others.

RYAN VOILAND: I mean, we have one field that we were irrigating early in the year with drip irrigation. And it was going fine. We were growing some of our early summer cabbage there and broccoli and some kale.

KAUFMAN: Ryan Voiland and his wife own the 100-plus acre farm with a retail store and a wholesale business.

VOILAND: That particular field, we were irrigating from a stream. That stream suddenly just dried up.

KAUFMAN: Where he can irrigate, Voiland says, things will grow OK. But he can't get to every field. He's had to make some tough choices. Plants are visibly wilting because of this summer's severe drought. For many New England farmers, irrigation used to be a supplement for relatively regular rainfall. It takes Voiland an hour and a half just to set up this giant sprinkler and hose. It creeps along at a really slow pace. Most days during the drought, he started watering at 4:30 in the morning. He shuts it all down around 9 at night. That's after a full day of running a farm.

Most summer crop harvests in Massachusetts will be smaller this year, at a time when inflation has made supplies more expensive. Fuel costs and labor are really high. Voiland and other farmers have had to raise their prices. But heat and drought are also making the peaches sweeter this year, says Ben Clark at Clarkdale farm in Deerfield, Mass.

BEN CLARK: In western and central Mass, we have been in a pretty severe drought. It's the biggest drought in my memory. And my father's been farming for 50 years here. And this is the driest summer he's seen.

KAUFMAN: Clark is president of the Massachusetts Fruit Growers Association, which is looking ahead to the apple season, big business in New England. There'll be less to harvest, Clark says, but there will be a crop. The trees in his fourth-generation orchard have been stressed, but older trees have deep roots. They find water, Clark says. They're bound to do better than the new types of trees he and other fruit growers are now planting.

CLARK: You know, more efficiency, higher yields. They're small trees with a small root system and really need the water they require, and otherwise they won't survive.

KAUFMAN: Some welcome rain fell earlier this week. If there's more of it, it could make all the difference for the winter squash and pumpkins that usually get picked off their vines in the fall. For NPR News, I'm Jill Kaufman in Granby, Mass. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jill Kaufman
Jill has been reporting, producing features and commentaries, and hosting shows at NEPR since 2005. Before that she spent almost 10 years at WBUR in Boston, five of them producing PRI’s “ The Connection” with Christopher Lydon. In the months leading up to the 2000 primary in New Hampshire, Jill hosted NHPR’s daily talk show, and subsequently hosted NPR’s All Things Consideredduring the South Carolina Primary weekend. Right before coming to NEPR, Jill was an editor at PRI's The World, working with station based reporters on the international stories in their own domestic backyards. Getting people to tell her their stories, she says, never gets old.
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