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Drought, heavy rains gave N.H. farmers a "run for their money” this season

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Michael Samuels for NHPR
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This farming season was tough in New Hampshire: it started with drought, followed by record rains and floods.

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“Farms are always kind of at the mercy of the elements,” Carl Majewski, a field specialist with the UNH extension school in Cheshire County said. “The weather this year kind of gave them a little bit of a bigger run for their money than usual,” Majewski added.

He says this season’s weather slowed down field operations and impacted some crop production. July’s heavy rains also meant there was a higher chance for plant disease and blights.

Jameson Small is the program manager for Fresh Start Farms through the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success, which has plots in Dunbarton and Concord.

Small says bugs made a big dent on the African eggplant and potato yield.

“You probably had a 30 percent yield compared to last year on potatoes,” he said. That, combined with the pandemic, meant the farmers “saw less food being grown and less that was marketable.”

Farmers in the program saw a two percent decrease in sales for the whole season, Small said. But Fresh Start Farms partnered with other local farmers to meet their weekly CSA demand.

Climate change has increased precipitation, extreme rainfall and river flooding in New Hampshire, and that trend will likely continue.

Majewski says he’s seeing more farmers adopting different tilling and cover crop practices to improve soil health, as a mitigation measure.

“These are practices that make it more resilient by helping you in all kinds of weather conditions, whether it's excessively wet or excessively dry,” he said.

Decreasing tilling, Majewski says, can allow water to drain better and plants can become more deeply rooted. It may take a few seasons to see those changes.

Milder temperatures this fall, however, did allow some farmers more time to prepare and transition to cover crops.