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Massachusetts farmers continue to struggle in drought conditions

Frank Matheson sifted dry soil to dig up potatoes undersized due to drought conditions on his family’s Spring Brook Farm in Littleton.
Frank Matheson sifted dry soil to dig up potatoes undersized due to drought conditions on his family’s Spring Brook Farm in Littleton. Keith Bedford/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The drought that has gripped Massachusetts all summer continues to plague farmers across the state, particularly those struggling with the cost of irrigating their crops.

“Everything that isn’t irrigated has had issues this year — every single vegetable crop,” said Fran Matheson, whose family owns Spring Brook Farm in Littleton. “Some crops are not even worth harvesting. You just have to till it and turn it under because they’re a disaster and a complete loss.”

Even if crops grow in the withering conditions, they don’t reach their usual size, Matheson said.

“It doesn’t develop properly, and then it doesn’t mature properly,” Matheson said. “Everything just doesn’t mature to its expected weight and size.”

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David Dumaresq, who owns three farms, including Hill Orchard in Westford, said irrigation has been a huge expense.

“It’s been brutal because it’s been a lot of work to keep everything irrigated, we keep between four and seven guys who just focus on irrigation,” Dumaresq said. “Where we are able to irrigate, harvests are great, but where we are running out of water, we have to decide what plants to water and what plants to let die.”

For instance, they had to let their entire crop of sweet corn die to preserve water for other crops, Dumaresq said.

Jim Wilson, who owns Wilson Farms in Lexington, said the farm is fortunate because it is entirely irrigated, but that it is difficult to sustain.

“The biggest thing is it’s just very labor-intensive to keep the irrigation going the whole time,” Wilson said. “There’s obviously a lot of expense there, the biggest one being labor.”

Every inch of rainfall spares the farm from a week’s irrigation, he said.

Christian Smith, from East Bridgewater’s C.N. Smith Farm, said the farm has been irrigating “all summer long.”

“That’s a lot of water,” he said.

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There is a separate farm that isn’t irrigated, creating a sharp divide between the two parcels.

“We have other crops, like corn and pumpkins and squash, that are not on this farm and they don’t have any water available to them so there’s a lot of yield reduction for those crops, and in some cases there is no crop at all. Our winter squash didn’t produce anything.”

Help may be in sight for Massachusetts farmers. Jon Niedzielski, executive director of the Massachusetts State Farm Service Agency, said state officials have requested federal disaster assistance.

“We think it will be signed next week,” Niedzielski said.


Olivia Quintana can be reached at olivia.quintana@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @oliviasquintana.