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Wet March weather creates challenges for Delaware farmers

Delaware Public Media

An impending nor'easter along with wet March weather could delay planting for a couple of crops in the First State, reducing yields and causing some farmers to forgo planting them this year.

High tide and winds could push salt water onto farmland. University of Delaware extension vegetable specialist Gordon Johnson says that can make it harder for water to enter the roots of a crop.

“In some cases the plants won’t grow, but more commonly you’ll just get very, very reduced yields,” Johnson said.

Mid-March is when many Delaware farmers put fertilizer on their small grains and start to plant peas and potatoes. Sussex County farmer Richard Wilkins said he had to rush out Monday to put his spring fertilizer on the ground before it becomes too wet to do so.

Wilkins, who farms in the Milford, Harrington and Greenwood areas, typically grows corn, soybeans, lima beans and peas, among other things.

According to the 2016-2017 Delaware Agricultural Statistics Bulletin, farmers typically begin planting green peas around March 1, but with recent wet weather and another storm coming, Wilkins said he wasn’t willing to take the risk.

“It’s not looking very good for peas for this year,” Wilkins said. “In fact, we probably won’t be able to grow peas this year. I’m not going to plant them late.”

He continued, “We just don’t have good luck if we plant peas late.”

Wet weather this time of year alongside recent nor'easters in Delaware won’t have a huge negative impact on the agricultural economy, said Delaware Department of Agriculture Secretary Michael Scuse.

However, if it delays potatoes by several weeks, it will create competition in the market.

“Then what happens is those potatoes will be coming off the same time as our neighbors to the north are harvesting and then you have the increased competition, which could, depending on the size of the crop, could push the crop price down,” Scuse said.

Scuse said if planting is delayed or farmers are prevented from planting, they’ll be able to fall back on their crop insurance. Farmers pay for crop insurance like drivers pay for car insurance – it’s a security measure in the case of a drought or bad weather.

The National Weather Service has put a Coastal Flood Watch into effect for Tuesday evening into Wednesday night. They're anticipating some minor coastal flooding with rain, sleet and snow across Delaware.

Meteorologist Patrick O’Hara said they’re “expecting kind of a one-two punch” from Tuesday into Wednesday.

Tuesday’s part of the storm will see a lot of rain in Southern Delaware and ice pellets and sleet along the Delaware-Pennsylvania border, O’Hara said.

On Wednesday, snow will fall across the First State.

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