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Drought conditions impact business

TRI-COUNTY AREA (7/20/16)--The drought conditions of the summer of 2016 have impacted many businesses in a negative way. The lack of significant rainfall over several weeks has left crops and grass thirsting for water, leaving many business owners claiming this is one of the worst dry spells they have experienced.
Mary-Howell Martens, owner of Lakeview Organic Grain, described the drought as "definitely one of the worst droughts we have ever seen." She said with corn and soybeans, many farms are not going to be able to make their desired crop yield. Martens claimed she has seen corn in the area that is only thigh high and has already started to tassel, meaning it could lead to a total crop loss.
Martens added many Mennonite farms rely on pasture to feed their animals, but several have already run out, noting the hay crop has been adversely affected by the dry weather as well. She said it will be difficult to make up for the lost forage.
"It's definitely going to hurt a lot of farmers," Martens said.
Martens said the area needs a few days of a steady soaking rain, as the sudden storms that bring the rain all at once lead to runoff on the dry soil. The drought could also have longer reaching impacts than just in the summer, as Martens speculates it could lead to a feed shortage this winter if area farms cannot produce enough forage. However, she said there are alternative species of warm-weather feeds that could still be planted to make up for the lost feed tonnage in time for winter. Martens advised those farms who know they will be short on winter feed to look at buying soon, as there is not going to be a lot available in New York State.
"Those who come last get worst," Martens said.
Mike Wilson, store manager with Lakeland Equipment in Hall, said their lawnmower sales have stalled since the beginning of the drought.
"It's like turning the tap off," Wilson said.
Lakeland's sales were actually up over last year until the drought hit, Wilson said. He added due to the lack of rain, a lot of the grass in the area is short and burnt looking, which means people have not had much of a reason to mow their lawns.
Wilson said their farm equipment customers have also been suffering, noting the dairy farms are really hurting. While some have gotten their second cut of hay, he said the third cutting has been "nonexistent." He said corn looked good up until the drought, adding it is definitely stressed right now. Wilson noted it was dry when the soybeans were planted, adding many of those crops looked "pretty tough." While some of the specialty vegetable farms have the option of irrigating, he said this can be expensive to do.
"It has been a long time since we have seen it this bad," Wilson said.
Dan Hamm of Hamm's Landscaping in Penn Yan said the drought is very significant, adding their mowing operation has been shut down for the past three weeks. While they still do their weed and feed program, he highlighted some of the difficulties that come with plantings. Hamm said they did a planting on a farm in Pulteney where they ended up pumping one of the farmer's ponds dry.
Hamm said they are trying to take care of the work they have already done, adding some of the plantings they had planned have been postponed. While some plants that are irrigated are doing well, he said it only takes three or four days in the right conditions to dry out the soil.
"I wish there was a water valve up there I could turn on for all the farmers," Hamm said.
Debbie Jankowski of Nells Tractor said the weather has impact business a lot, saying they are not doing as much business as far as lawnmower purchase and repairs go. She said it has been four to six weeks since the area got any significant rain, adding she first started noticing the impacts of the drought in June. Jankowski said she had to cut back their Saturday hours from closing at 2 p.m. to closing atnoon because of the dropoff in business.
"We don't usually do that until October," Jankowski said.
Jankowski mentioned this is one of the worst droughts she has ever seen, adding it has been a long time since she last saw a dry spell this bad. She added she cannot offer any overtime as well, saying there is enough work to keep busy, but not enough to bring in any money.
Lisa Engelbert of Engelbert Farms does deliveries to the Watkins Glen area, noting, "It's pretty serious." She said some areas farther south got some rain last week, but prior to that they had not gotten much rain in six weeks. Engelbert said corn is showing signs of stress the worst, along with the pasture for animals. While some corn still looks good, she described some of the corn she has seen as looking like "pineapple fields." Engelbert said the pasture issue can especially be a problem for organic farms who need to pasture their animals a specific amount of time, adding some farms cannot meet their minimum.
As of Thursday, July 14, Yates, Schuyler and the northeast portions of Steuben County were listed as in severe drought by the United State Drought Monitor. This comes after one of the driest months of June on record, a trend that has since continued into mid-July.

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