By this Esteban surely meant the heartbreak of seeing first hand, day-to-day in the field, healthy plantings go down to disease or pests or some other calamity. And he’s right; never before have we experienced such a “perfect storm” of setbacks- many of them driven by the 4th wettest summer in MN history”- as we have in 2016. As a rule, rainfall is bad for vegetables (see my writing on this from August).
We survived the catastrophic flood of 2007 alright, when much of our crop was lost in a single night. This season has been a slow motion tsunami which, I’m now convinced, will cost the farm more in absolute dollars than the losses of 2007. Here’s a quick assessment of the impacts:
Near total loss (>90%): storage onions and potatoes, cauliflower, ripe peppers
Deep (>30%) shortfalls in productivity: sweetcorn, melons, broccoli, slicing tomatoes
Black Rot (foliar disease) devastation: cabbage, cauliflower.
Two things are unique about the losses of 2016, in historical context. First, they are offset by very few crops that will perform above expectation. In the past, bad news in crops x and y has been offset by good news in crops a and b. This is the essence of “risk management on a diverse farm.” In 2016 however, income from “good crops” (kale, and cherry tomatoes) is dwarfed by losses in “bad crops” listed above.
Secondly, the losses we’re experiencing in 2016 are at both a depth and breadth that I believe to be unprecedented in 20 years at Featherstone Farm. In the past we’ve had big issues with a few crops, say, or moderate level issues with a broader set of crops. But to have deep losses on such a wide range of plantings… this is why Esteban is as discouraged as he is.
The reasons why this is happening are as diverse as the crops themselves. Many, many of them are rooted in the near constant wet we’ve experienced all summer. Not just the 2” downpours (there have been lots of these…), but the hot, muggy weather between, in which soils and crops simply could not dry out adequately, spreading Black Rot and other diseases. But other things have gone wrong as well.
Featherstone Farm will survive this season, and emerge wiser and more experienced than ever. There will be difficult choices to make this winter, however, in terms of budgets and off season projects. It’s in the nature of farming, that we have to invest money for months and months in plantings and in people, on the assumption that crops will produce at a certain level. When it becomes apparent (often at the very end of the growing season) that productivity is low, there is less expense that can be cut. Production costs are 90% sunk, even if yields are not there to pay for them. In 2016, this may be as much as a $300k shortfall.
Over the next few weeks, we will be working hard to bring in crops that are still out- squash, broccoli and carrots. And we will be trying to understand and describe exactly why we lost each and every crop that we did (a prerequisite for preventing recurrence in future). I will be writing to update you as I am able.
In the meanwhile, please keep your thoughts on -and your prayers for- a dry fall!