Spring chill slows business for local farms

The farming industry across the state has suffered from below average temperatures this spring, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

“Most farmers are saying they are a week or two behind,” said Steve Jensen, a spokesman for the department. “The soil is still too cold and you don’t get the germination you need.”

While plants struggle to survive, the agriculture business has also lagged due to foul weather. Customers aren’t buying from farmers’ markets or they aren’t buying gardening supplies because the weather isn’t right.

“People aren’t in the mode to plant,” Jensen said.

Poor weather has slowed sales at local farms such as N. Casertano’s Greenhouses & Farms, headquartered in Cheshire and which also has land in Wallingford.

“No one is buying plants,” said Mike Joy, the farm’s sales manager. “No one is in the mood to buy. The weather is really affecting us more than anything.”

Joy said in his 11 years working at the farm, “this is the worst I’ve seen” in terms of spring weather conditions.

In the region, spring temperatures are 3.1 degrees below normal, according to Gary Lessor, meteorologist at Western Connecticut State University’s Weather Center. Lessor said March temperatures were 6.6 degrees colder than normal. April temperatures have been a half-degree below normal. Through March and April, Lessor said, the region has received 1.7 inches over the average rainfall total of nine inches.

Joy said he is hopeful for sunshine this weekend and could do without the cold temperature.

Lessor said that as of mid-Wednesday afternoon the temperature had only reached 45 degrees. The average high this time of year is 66 degrees, he said.

Much of Casertano’s third-generation business relies on the sale of flowering plants. Some vegetables are also grown, Joy said. The farm, which has 15 acres of greenhouses, sells to gardening centers from Maine to Maryland. While much of what is grown is protected from the elements inside greenhouses, plants are also matured outdoors where they develop hardier roots, Joy said. This is important for keeping flowers alive when they are transferred to retail outlets.

Much of the time, the farm only makes money when product is sold at retail outlets, Joy said. If product does not look good, it doesn’t move off the shelf. Poor weather has hurt plant growth, he said. But more importantly, people aren’t buying. Many flowering plants are matured early in warm greenhouses in anticipation for high demand this time of year, Joy said. “There’s market pressure to be ready early.”

But with demand lacking, inventory is sitting around “clogging up the pipeline,” he said. Many plants are going to waste. By the time demand picks up, many plants will be too old, Joy said. Normally, the farm ships out about 400 carts full of plants daily. Recently, the farm has only been sending out about 100 carts daily, he said.

With Mother’s Day coming up, the next week “is the biggest week of our industry,” Joy said. “We are praying that this weekend the weather improves.”

When the weather does improve, “it’s going to be ridiculous,” he said, with “a lot of hours and a lot of product moving around. I’m confident we’re going to come back from this.”

Other local farms are also feeling the impact of poor weather this spring. Jensen released his weekly agricultural report on Wednesday. Two Northford farmers – Nelson Cecarelli and Joe DeFrancesco – were featured in the Department of Agriculture report.

Cecarelli told Jensen that the cold nights are impacting growth. Lettuce that was recently planted “is alive and healthy but it just can’t get going the way it should,” Cecarelli said in the report.

DeFrancesco told Jensen his sales are “at least two or three weeks behind because of the weather.”

The chilly weather has actually been a benefit for some growers, like Richard Ruggiero, founder of Paradise Hills Vineyard & Winery in Wallingford.

“We actually like it like this because it keeps them from budding out too soon,” said Ruggiero, who grows six different kinds of grapes on seven acres of land. If temperatures are above average in April and the grape vines bud early, they are susceptible to a late-spring frost, he said.

“It being this cold in spring is actually beneficial for us,” Ruggiero said.

Temperatures in early May are expected to start near normal or slightly cooler, Lessor said. But there should be a significant warm up mid-month, he said. Indications are that temperatures may be back below normal near the end of May, so it will be a “roller-coaster ride,” Lessor said.

While this spring has been tough, “farmers are pretty resilient,” Jensen said. “They know how to adapt to conditions like this. They’ve been through this before. They’ll find a way again.”

aragali@record-journal.com (203) 317-2224 Twitter: @Andyragz



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