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‘Survival Mode’ For Southern N.H. Vegetable Farmers As State Prepares To Declare Drought

Annie Ropeik

Near-drought conditions in southern New Hampshire are straining vegetable farmers in the midst of planting season, after more than a month without substantial rainfall.

The state expects to soon declare a drought in the southern tier and lower Lakes Region, after an abnormally dry spring and a winter without much snow to recharge streams and groundwater.

It was top of mind for many vendors at the Portsmouth Farmers Market Saturday morning.

Longtime Seacoast-area grower Charlie Reid of Stone Wall Farm was selling garlic scapes and lettuce at his booth. Like many smaller-scale growers, he doesn’t have irrigation systems on his land. So without any useful rain this past month, he’s been spending all his time watering by hand.

“It’s just been terrible,” Reid says. “I’m trying to get planted, but I can’t because I have to turn around and water what’s been planted already. And if you don’t water these little seedlings, then they’re gonna die.”

Reid, who's been farming organically since 1968, says plenty of his plants will grow small or not at all as a result of the dry weather, and that’ll hurt him economically.

The same goes for Stephanie Hollis, who was working the booth for her family farm, in Lee, at the Portsmouth market. She says their hay production is down by half this season. And they're spending more time watering and less time planting vegetables because the soil is so dry.

"We're just trying to figure out how to manage our time and whether or not even putting stuff in those fields is profitable right now,” she says.

Jordan Pike runs Two Toad Farm in southern Maine, east of the lower Lakes Region, which is also experiencing the arid conditions. He says this dry spell, which follows an unusually hot May and a killing frost on June 1, is “scary bad” – it’s even killed weeds on his farm.

Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR
Charlie Reid of Stone Wall Farm in Nottingham bundles garlic scapes at the Portsmouth Farmer's Market on Saturday.

“Things are just really stressed out. We’re not able to plant new things, we have no radishes, we’ve lost lots of beds of salad greens. So it’s rough,” Pike says.

“We’re in survival mode. We’re in triage mode right now.”

He gets water for his crops out of a pond on the farm, which he says is beginning to sink because of the lack of rain.

New Hampshire hasn’t declared an official drought yet in the region, but says it’s only a matter of time. They say water well users in the southern tier should start conserving now.

The water district in Merrimack has barred outdoor water use of any kind as of June 19.

In Rye, the water company had already asked residents to be mindful of water use during the COVID-19 stay-at-home order. The Rye Water District says usage rose 27 percent, or three million gallons, in May.

Southern New Hampshire last experienced droughts in 2018 and 2016.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.
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