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Happy 4th of July!

Soggy Spring Hurts Farms

July 4, 2010

Farmers across Snohomish County are counting on a change in the weather next week.

It’s about time, many say.

Gov. Chris Gregoire asked the federal government to designate Snohomish and 28 other counties in Washington as agricultural production disaster areas.

She made the request Thursday, after June left farmers on both sides of the state hit hard with winds, chilly temperatures and lots of rain during planting time and the early weeks of crop germination. Some lost portions of their crops and others had to start over and replant.

“Now it looks like we might turn this thing around,” said National Weather Service spokesman Reid Wolcott in Seattle. “The forecast for the next couple weeks shows above average temperatures and below average precipitation.”

At the Biringer berry farm near Arlington, Dianna Biringer said her husband, Mike, probably won’t apply for any disaster aid that might become available.

“But we need people to come out now and pick strawberries or we will have a disaster,” Biringer said. “The regulars come out rain or shine, but most people don’t want to pick berries until the sun is out.”

As far as the governor’s request goes, the word “disaster” accurately sums up the recent spring, said Andrew Corbin, a faculty member at the Snohomish County Washington State University Extension.

Instead of seeing cornstalks knee-high by the Fourth of July, some farmers are just now getting their corn in the ground.

“I thought 2008 was bad, but some of the guys say it’s the worst spring they’ve ever seen,” Corbin said. “It was the perfect weather for disease to take hold and for standing water to stop seed germination. It’s just bad all around and the guys are upset.”

The heat forecast for next week should help, Corbin said.

Biringer Farm crews had to start over on the planting of pumpkins and corn, Dianna Biringer said.

“We really got clobbered with those crops,” she said. “We had to replant all of it, and most people I have talked to are experiencing the same thing. The full extent of the financial damage is yet to be seen.”

South of Snohomish, Bob Ricci said 70 percent of his first planting of sweet corn didn’t make it.

“I planted early and I knew that was a risk,” Ricci said. “I figure as long as we have good weather at harvest time, we’ll be OK.”

Farmers who raise corn and berries have been hit particularly hard, said Holly Hedblom, acting county executive director of the Farm Service Agency in Lake Stevens. The agency is a local branch of the federal government.

Some corn farmers know their crop won’t mature like it should but they’re giving it a try anyway, and others are letting their fields lay fallow, Hedblom said.

Even grass producers who raise hay are feeling the pain, she said. “It’s all being impacted because it’s been so wet.”

Nobody has a monetary damage estimate yet, she said.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture disaster declaration would allow farmers to apply for disaster assistance payments through several programs administered by the Farm Service. Farmers may also be eligible for emergency low-interest loans to cover production and farm property losses, the governor’s office said.

To contact the Farm Service in Lake Stevens, call 425-335-5634.

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