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Farmers say crops are taking a beating due to low rainfall

Farmers from J&J Produce weeding and thinning a crop of beets at Hog Bay Park (Photogrph by Blaire Simmons)

Farmers have reported their summer crops are taking a beating because of a lack of rain.

Dry conditions have not only impacted traditional summer harvests but sent thirsty feral chickens and rodents scavenging into the fields, according to Carlos Amaral of Amaral Farms.

But Mr Amaral said the arid conditions were not without benefits.

“I’d rather deal with drought than have banana fields flattened by Category 2 or Category 3 hurricanes,” he said.

“I’d take drought over hurricanes any day. We’ve had the Azores-Bermuda High sitting over Bermuda – that keeps storms away from us.

“The Catch-22 is that, come September, October, we will really be bracing for the hurricanes after the high has moved away.”

Rainfall in July dwindled to less than one inch – the lowest in decades – and August has largely passed under similar dry, high pressure conditions. It did rain during the weekend but not all parts of the island were affected.

Rainfall figures

According to the Bermuda Weather Service, on Saturday 8.1mm, or 0.32in, of rain fell.

Rainfall in August to date is 106mm, or 4.16in. In the past 30 days there has been 110mm, or 4.33in, of rain. In the past seven days there has been 103mm, or 4.05in, of rain.

For the year to date, there has been 710mm, or 27.96in, of rainfall and the normal year-to-date figures is 861mm, or 33.89in.

Mr Amaral said pumpkins, which usually thrive in the summers, were likely to be “a huge loss” as a result.

He added: “The drought issue compounds our problems with chickens and rats looking for moisture to sustain themselves.

“We’ve had real problems with the chickens going after our pepper crops, punching holes in the fruit to get the moisture and bananas getting hit by the rats and chickens.

“They’ve been a real headache for us this year. Their populations have exploded – it’s like we’re laying out a buffet for them.”

He said a few pecks would be “more than enough” to destroy a watermelon – another summer crop.

“It’s frustrating. We have the same issues with tomatoes. Once there’s a hole in it, the whole thing is compromised. You can end up losing 75 per cent of a crop.”

But Mr Amaral said parched ground and low rainfall were “par for the course in local agriculture for this time of the year”.

“We always get a dry spell. It sounds like this is the driest on record, but it tends to be cyclical – every ten to 15 years you’ll get these pockets of unusually dry conditions.”

The low rainfall could change the timing for crops such as carrots, when farmers look for their next planting in late August and early September.

Mr Amaral said it could affect the availability of crops coming to market later in the year.

Another feature of the dry weather has been a heightened reliance on irrigation.

“The electricity cost from running the pumps shows up significantly this time of year.

“It’s the dog days of summer. But before we know it, we’ll have tropical storms rolling in.”

He added: “That’s farming. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”

For Tom Wadson, of Wadson’s Farm in Southampton, resorting to irrigation means having to buy water.

“The electricity bills I can stand,” he said. “What really kills you is having to buy the water.”

Mr Wadson said the rainless conditions had made him wary about his planting choices this year.

“It’s shut us down with a lot of things. There’s a lot of projects I generally like to get done in the summer, like bananas, a little corn.

“With this summer, I’ve been more cautious. I even have cow peas that I’m not planting.

“I would have gone out in July with sweet potatoes. It was too dry.”

Mr Wadson said his own farm records had corroborated what the Bermuda Weather Service reported for July – that it was Bermuda’s driest since 1984.

“It’s not unprecedented,” he added. “But it’s right up there.”

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Published August 15, 2022 at 7:55 am (Updated August 15, 2022 at 7:29 am)

Farmers say crops are taking a beating due to low rainfall

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