FRANKLIN, Mass. — On Hoffmann Farm in Franklin, even the weeds look thirsty.

The farm, about 20 acres, completely lost its usual crop of zucchini, summer squash and cucumbers this summer while scrambling to keep the tomatoes and corn alive.

“They pretty much burnt up and died,” owner Nick Hoffmann said.

The crops that survived are only producing about half the usual yield. What does grow lacks quality.

“Stuff that I would put to the side other years is getting used,” Hoffmann said.

This is the worst drought he has seen since starting the farm in 2003, and the rain that has fallen can only stretch so far. The farm’s irrigation pond dried up about two weeks ago. The sputtering of rain last week offered some relief – and greened the property a little – but it’s far from enough.


“If I ran the irrigation like I should, I’d dry it up in a day,” Hoffmann said.


More than 60 percent of the state is now facing severe drought, including most of the Attleboro area, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor’s most recent report. Ninety-two percent of the state is in either moderate or severe drought, with the rest “abnormally dry.”

Following four months of unseasonably arid weather, the state declared a drought advisory in early July for Southeastern Massachusetts, prompting tightened water restrictions in Attleboro area communities.

In Attleboro, a little less than 2 inches of rain fell in June for a month that typically receives double that. July received 1.48 inches, but usually gets about 31/2 inches, Attleboro Water Department records show. August has brought 0.29 inches.

Precipitation is about 6 inches – almost 25 percent – below normal for the first seven months of the year.


Few have more at risk during the drought than farmers.

Karen Schwalbe, executive director of the Southeastern Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership, said growers here usually expect a six-week stretch of hot, dry weather. But now, alarm bells are ringing as parched conditions drag on.

“I have not heard from farmers, at least farther south, with total crop loss,” Schwalbe said. “But, I think everybody’s concerned, if it keeps going, that’s what they’ll be seeing.”

For Agraria Farm and Edibles, a small organic operation in Rehoboth, the dryness pushed Barbara Link to focus on perennials and native species – elderberries, for example – that don’t need as much water.

“When we saw it coming, we started some mid-course corrections to what we were offering,” Link said.



Many of the 16-year-old farm’s crops need even distribution of water.

“We’re not fully irrigated,” she said “That means handwatering if we don’t get the rain.”

Nonetheless, the farm, with 7 acres under cultivation, has seen crop failures of its own.

Its latest strawberry crop was a total loss. And the harvest of shitake mushrooms in June and July missed its target weight. In all, the farm is expecting a hit to 20 percent of its revenue this year.

“We’ve had a few huge disappointments,” Link said. “The water just wasn’t there.”

During a drought, it’s easy for someone who relies on rain to get frustrated with unreliable TV weather forecasts. Link thinks they play up the slightest chance of rain.


“It’s like entertainment value. Not for people seriously dependent on the weather. And nobody seems to care,” she said.

Hoffmann is starting to feel unlucky: “It seems like it keeps missing me, and I’ve heard that from a lot of different growers.”

Worrying so much about irrigation, he said, is like an adding a whole other job to his usual workload. And, he knows that everything he decides to use water on is at the expense of another crop.

The problems compound. Hoffmann Farm has faced a shortage of hay, and if other farms are also struggling to grow it, the price goes up. Hoffmann said he might have to look out of state for hay, and he’s bracing to have to buy feed for his cows in the winter.

Many farms have crop insurance, but Hoffmann said he won’t know how much that will ease the burden until the end of the season. He said it’s too early to tell how much lost revenue to expect.

“You almost know what’s coming – but you really don’t yet,” he said.


Cook’s Valley Farm, a Wrentham farm that grows a wide array of fruits and vegetables, has been spending unusual amounts of time and money on irrigation, co-owner Marilyn Cook said.

While the farmstand is running at full speed, the harvest hasn’t produced as much overstock to sell wholesale as normal.

With about 30 acres under cultivation, during dry spells the farm has to decide which crops are going to offer the best return.

“You might cut back on some of the oddball things, if it gets really severe,” Cook said.

She remains hopeful, recalling that people said they’d never recover from a bad drought in the ’90s. It was followed by a long period of heavy rain. That could happen again.

“You have to keep a positive attitude and keep going,” she said.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.