The ground at the Johnson’s Orchards and Peaks of Otter Winery is soft and muddy. Water from recent snow and rainfall flowed on the property in small streams.
“There’s no place for the water to go,” said Danny Johnson, owner of the orchards and winery. “The ground is so saturated it’s just nothing but mud everywhere.”
Many farmers, like Johnson, have had to deal with the wet weather in the past year. Days of persistent rainfall have left farmers cleaning up the damage.
“I’ve never seen the weather like this,” said Danny Johnson, owner of the orchards and winery. “The winds and this wet weather have just been terrible. This has been the most unusual 12 months I think I’ve ever spent.”
The combination of the soft saturated ground and the breezy conditions has caused many of Johnson’s trees to lean to the side or uproot completely. After owning the farm for over three decades, Johnson says he has never seen anything like this before.
“Then the wind comes in. It’s blown over I don’t know how many hundred trees out there, hundreds of them,” said Johnson. “It’s so wet you can’t pull them back.”
The wet weather has also prevented Johnson and his crew from completing certain tasks, such as pruning and spraying their produce. More than half of the apple trees haven’t been pruned for the year, which could lead to a smaller crop yield. Johnson says pruned apple trees will produce a large fruit, while those left with their growth with produce smaller apples. The difference in produce weight for a pruned tree and an untreated tree is three pounds, which Johnson doesn’t want to lose. Plus, fruits impacted by consistent rains will have a shorter shelf life.
“When you’ve got this much rain out there all during the season you can’t get out and take care of your fruits — spray it, take care of it — and the fruit is just not going to keep.”
There is the potential for a smaller harvest in the future, which could affect the prices of certain products — such as the wines, jams, and jellies Johnson sells at the orchards.
“You can’t till in the land, or get the land ready, when it’s this wet,” said Johnson. “It’s gonna be tough. If we can’t grow things, then that makes the price of the products go up.”
When the weather is fair Johnson and his crew try to play catch-up on their duties, whether it’s trying to prop fruit trees back up, pruning trees and vines, or wrapping batched of blackberry. To save future apple crops, Johnson uses a technique called “grafting” to create new tree limbs. It involves taking a section of an existing limb, cutting the end of it in a particular fashion, and attaching the limb to the stock of the tree.
Johnson believes farmers must adapt to the changes and the hardships. He recalls how he wanted to get out of whoelsale and how he now focuses on what the customers want — this is what led to the development of the winery and vacation rental on their property, as well as the numerous events and festivals they hold each year.
“We constantly are changing, and that’s what you have to do,” said Johnson. “You have to be able to stay ahead of the game to be able to survive on the farm.”