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August rain thwarts potential drought and crop shortage

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Just weeks ago, north country farmers worried about looming crop damage caused by drought.

Now, thanks to above-average rainfall in most of the region during the past two weeks, the grass is greener and crops are growing at a healthy rate again.

Watertown International Airport has reported 2.64 inches of rain since the beginning of the month compared with an average of only 1.22 inches through Aug. 12. Approximately 2.2 inches fell Aug. 5, according to meteorologist Jim A. Mitchell of the National Weather Service in Buffalo. Nearly a half-inch of additional rain fell over the weekend.

“It's been huge because the soybean (fields) are greening back up, and ears of corn are developing nicely even though the plants aren't as tall” because of the drought, said dairy farmer Lyle J. Wood, who co-owns a farm in Cape Vincent with Scott F. Bourcy. “We're not going to have as much tonnage, but we expect quality silage” for the cattle herd.

Massena International Airport closed in at 1.25 inches to the average 1.43 inch for the month to date. However, meteorologist Marvin A. Boyd of the National Weather Service in Burlington, Vt., said the count in Massena is not representative of most of St. Lawrence County.

“Most of the rain has fallen between our gauges,” he said. “The heaviest rain has fallen just east of Massena.”

Despite the warm and dry weather trend this year, Mr. Boyd predicted more rain and cooler temperatures are headed this way from this week forward.

“We're getting to the end of the summer now, so the sun angle is lower in the sky,” he said. “We're getting more weather systems coming through as a result. We're entering the transition season, and we'll have a lot more cool fronts.”

This is good news for Mr. Wood, who in late July, when most farmers hadn't gotten more than a half-inch of rain in roughly two months, was developing an emergency plan for the fall. While the first rainfall in early August saved his crops, he said the latest streak of rain has ultimately turned a bad season into a decent one. The farm received only 0.2 inches of rain Aug. 5 but chalked up a half-inch over the weekend.

“Everything's now back on trajectory, and we plan to start harvesting corn after Labor Day weekend in September,” he said.

Sharing Mr. Wood's sentiment, dairy farmer Michael W. Hill said his 5,700 acres of farmland in Woodville and Tylerville are faring much better after the rain. He's still had to tweak his crop strategy due to yield reductions from the drought, but losses were not nearly as bad as he anticipated. Some 1,500 acres of corn he had planned to sell on the market will now mostly be harvested as silage for his 400-cattle herd instead.

Still, his green fields have soaked up the water they required.

“The corn that we planted in late May now looks quite good,” he said Monday afternoon, explaining that his land soaked up about 0.6 inches over the weekend. “Our fourth cutting of hay now looks pretty good, and we're going to need to catch up from (the previous) cuttings of almost nothing.”

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