Wednesday August 29, 2012

Summer may have been hotter and drier than usual in the Berkshires, but the corn crop, helped by recent rains, has been mostly excellent, farmers say.

"The corn here has been fantastic this year," said Paul Tawczynski, a second generation farmer at Taft Farms which grows about 20 acres of corn in Great Barrington. "The corn that is being affected by the drought in the rest of the country is a completely different kind of corn," he said.

It is commercial commodity field corn, grown as feed for livestock and for use in processed foods and to be turned into the gasoline additive ethanol.

"The Northeast," he said, "has had that timely rain, even if it comes in torrential downpours. It does soak in and the plants get to absorb it."

"Most farms around here are having a banner year," he said. "Most of the other farmers we speak to at the farm store had ended up having a good season. They have been able to replant and are doing really well."

Most are selling corn for 50 cents an ear, a price that's been unchanged for the last five years.

Wallace Chenail, who grows field corn for his 100 head of dairy cows at the family's Chenail's Farm on Luce Road in Williamstown said, "Well, it's still not in the silo yet."

His father, Winthrop Chenail, grows 15 acres of sweet corn and other vegetables on Luce Road.

"Sweet corn does fairly well, ‘cause you plant it out multiple plantings from late April through almost the end of June," Wallace Chenail explained.


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"That helped mitigate the weather.

"We got enough rain here in the last three weeks that it's helped out a lot," he added.

All of this year's quirky weather -- a warm, snowless winter, mid-March temperatures creeping to the upper 70s with nights well above freezing, then a series of freezing nights in April, a June with no rain, and a dry, hot July -- impacted sweet corn here in the Berkshires, but differently from one place to another.

"It's basically been all over the place," Wallace Chenail observed. "You can be three miles from one farm to another and some people will be doing great and other people will be absolutely dried up droughts."

Mark DelSignore, who grows 20 acres of corn at Partridge Road Farm overlooking Route 8 at the south end of Lanesborough, has been having a great corn season.

"It looks great out there! I've had no problems at all," he said. "If anything, the weather's been for the better for me."

It was very different for George and Kathy Noble, whose Tweenbrook Farm is little more than 10 miles away in Pittsfield near Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary.

"We lost three fields of corn. We didn't have any corn until the middle of August," Kathy Noble said last week.

"I guess we're luckier than the farmers in the Midwest: We finally got rain in August, and that helped us a lot.

"The rains we've had the last few weeks, they made all the difference," she went on.

Just a couple of miles south of the Nobles' farm, at Over meade Gardens in Lenox, Kyra and Matthew Hart lost all their early corn first to those earworms, then to crows devouring what was left, then to weeds, and finally to the clincher of no rain

Laughing about loss

But their corn had revived and is now on their farmstand. By last Friday the two were laughing about their loss at the farmers market in Lenox.

Not even 10 miles away in Richmond, Russell Clark wasn't laughing. He was so disappointed in his sweet corn that he will not be selling any until this weekend.

He said that because of the lack of rain, the kernels did not swell up, that he was not proud of the corn he and his father before him have always grown on Clover Hill Farm and did not want to sell it to the public.

"We're eating it and the little calf and the cow are loving it but I will not have corn on the stand until this weekend. I wanted to have it for the Labor Day and I will have it through September," he said.

Jon Racine of Racine's Corn Stand Adams said "The first part of the season wasn't too good. It was real dry. We lost maybe, total, a couple acres, maybe three out of, I'd say about, 30 acres."

Racine said, "It started getting better as soon as the rain started a few weeks ago. When the rain started coming it turned right around. It saved all my late corn. I'm hoping, as long as everything goes OK, we'll have corn into October."

Just enough rain

About 15 miles down Route 8 in Lanesborough, Eric Whitney grows 30 acres of white, yellow and bicolor butter-and-sugar corn at Whit ney's Farm Market. Like DelSignore nearby, he said he, "had no trouble."

"The corn crop's been good, good," he said. "It's just enough rain to keep us going and we're fortunate to have good enough soil that holds the water."

"We grow many different varieties of corn of staggered maturity. They're always at their peak," he said.

At the other end of the county, Bruce Howden grows about 35 acres of different varieties old fashioned bicolor sweet corn in Ashley Falls, at his Howden Farm, which his father bought in 1939. He considers himself "corn" in Sheffield.

Howden finds the season, "hard to evaluate." He said, "Maybe the corn was uneven. Maybe there was a ripe one and maybe there was one that was not ripe."

"Now, we're working our way out of that," Howden said, but he was not ready to predict good fortune.

"It's only the end of August," he said. "I stared planting on the 20th of April. I ended my planting on the 30th of June so I should have a 10- or 11-week season. A nine-week season is a pretty good season."