Down on the farm, drought damages bottom line

Hot, dry summer affecting yields of some crops

Down on the farm, drought damages bottom line

MILLIS, Mass. — The leaves on the winter squash plants have yellowed. The last crop of carrots has gone in. At Tangerini's Farm in Millis, the summer of 2020 is winding down and it will be remembered as an excellent year for melons and not such a good one for cucumbers and zucchini. 

"We've definitely had some dry years for sure," said co-owner Linda Chiarizio. "But this year, overall, has been easily our driest."

Hot, dry conditions helped with the honeydew melons, Linda said, but hurt crops that soak up a lot of water, like summer squashes.

Content Continues Below

"We've been down a couple of hundred pounds on the yields on those," she said.

Massachusetts officially declared a 'significant' drought just last week. But down on the farm, that's old news. 

"It's been sunny and it keeps saying 30% chance of rain, 40% chance of rain," Linda said. "And we'll watch on the radar as the rain shows up in little blips and then we'll watch our little dot in Millis as the rain goes to the north or to the south. And it just seems to go right on by."  

Linda and husband Steve aren’t new to farming, but they just bought Tangerini’s last year. One fortuitous early move they made was to dig out a spring-fed irrigation pond on the property, which holds a million gallons. 

>>>Related: Finally Some Rain

"If I had a smaller pond or we didn't have that natural spring we would be prioritizing and irrigating crops that are going to bring the value over other crops," said Steve Chiarizio. 

That pond feeds an underground irrigation system that runs to about 60% of the approximately 70-acre property. But with weeks of no rain and unrelenting heat, the pond is now running low. 

"It's down about eight feet now from the level it usually is," Linda said, pointing to a thick, dark rim sitting above the current water line of the pond. "It's spring-fed. But even at that, it can't keep up."

On farms, droughts cause problems beyond stunted growth. 

"We tend to see different animal behaviors in drought years," Linda said. "We find them eating a variety of crops that they might not gravitate towards. And they're just trying to get their water where they can."

For example, this year, deer have gotten into the cornfield for the first time. 

"They've been coming in through the woods and just eating the silks off of the top of the corn," Linda said. 

"We do pray for the rain," added Steve. 

At that moment, a scattered shower was moving across the farm.

"This is just maybe going to keep the dust down for us," Steve said. "It needs to be a saturating rain. A day of a nice, slow rain."

Until that happens, Tangerini’s will do what it’s been doing the entire dry, hot summer: pumping out that irrigation pond and hoping for a soaker.