John Harker, left, and Debra Parry operate Kents Hill Orchard in Readfield. Harker said the historic mid-spring rainfall in central Maine could be problematic if it continues to delay him from applying a fungicide that protects the apples from disease. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

READFIELD — For John Harker, the historical rainfall over the weekend isn’t a problem — yet.

Harker is just one of the farmers across central Maine who is keeping an eye on the weather following the weekend storm that brought historic mid-spring rainfall and flooding to central Maine.

Before they are willing to issue any predictions about this year’s growing season, the farmers want to see what happens next.

At Kents Hill Orchard, the apple-growing season is underway, with some leaves and flower buds now making their appearance. That means it is getting to be time to spray the orchard for apple scab, a fungal disease that affects both leaves and fruit and can make apples inedible.

“You have to spray before a rainfall,” Harker said.

If the rain does not stop, he can’t apply the fungicide.


“If (the rainy weather) continues like this it could be a problem,”  he said.

Buds are seen Tuesday on an apple tree at Kents Hill Orchard in Readfield. The new growth signals that it is time to spray the trees with a fungicide to protect them from disease. The substance must be applied before rainfall, and owner John Harker said if the wet weather continues, it could be problematic for this year’s harvest. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

For other farmers, though, the extremely wet conditions are posing issues.

Julie Ann Smith, executive director of the Maine Farm Bureau, said Tuesday that in many cases fields are so soaked that farmers are not able to get out on the fields to plant or prune yet.

“I don’t know how many farmers have planted yet, but it’s not a good time not to be able to get to the trees,” Smith said.

In Wayne, Trent Emery at Emery Farm, said not all his fields are planted yet, and it is mostly too early to say what the impact of up to 5 inches of rain falling in about 24 hours will be.

“My career in farming has been 14 years,” Emery said. “We have had heavy rainstorms before, but I don’t recall one that came this quick, this intense and this fast, not in a 24-hour window.”


Favorable conditions in early and mid-April meant a lot of ground preparation and some planting was already completed when the rain started falling the week before the big storm hit.

“Some of the fields had been tilled, and that’s a vulnerable way to leave a field,” he said.

Because of the topography and layout of the farm, some topsoil was lost, but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed. It’s another chore that Emery will add to his list of things he can do while waiting for the weather to clear by the end of the week. That’s when he will assess whether he will have to replant some of the potatoes and start planting onions. Then he will catch up on planting fine seeded crops like beets and carrots, which he delayed because of the wet conditions earlier last week.

“We’re not seeing a loss in value, just delay in planting,” Emery said.

Caragh Fitzgerald, an extension educator with University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said facilities and infrastructure are also vulnerable to damage and will require both time and money to repair.

“Depending on the issue, it could delay or prevent some essential tasks,” Fitzgerald said via email, noting that flooding may be preventing access to some barns or outbuildings.


Not far from Emery Farm, Tom Stevenson is getting ready for his own season at Stevenson Strawberry Farm, where the well-established raised strawberry beds weathered the storm well.

“There are water years and there are drainage years,” Stevenson said. “This is a drainage year.”

So far, the biggest impact has been washed-out sections on some farm roads, so some gravel will have be moved.

At Lazy Acres Farm in Farmingdale, Sarah Lutte relies on her high tunnel to extend the growing season for the flowers she raises. The plastic-covered structure survived the storm without damage and the plants inside were not affected.

The storm came early enough in the season that the field-planted flowers aren’t likely to be affected. The fields need to dry out some before she can take a tractor out, and some flowers will be delayed.

If the rain had come a month later, she said, it would a much different story.

“Welcome to climate change,” she said.

In the Kents Hill section of Readfield, where Harker is also waiting for the ground in his apple orchard to dry up enough to mow, he’s philosophical about the unpredictable nature of farming.

“You never know how it’s going to turn out,” he said, “until your crop is in someone’s mouth.”

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