Many Pa. farmers are feeling Mother Nature's wrath

Paul Kurtz
December 10, 2018 - 4:00 am
The year 2018 will go down as one of the worst in decades for Pennsylvania farmers.

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PERKASIE, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — The year 2018 will go down as one of the worst in decades for Pennsylvania farmers. Last week, Gov. Tom Wolf issued a disaster declaration for 14 counties, making them eligible for federal disaster relief, and there may be more to come. 

Tom Murtha is still tabulating the losses he wracked up at his farm in Perkasie, Bucks County. The trouble began during prime planting season in early May. 

"That's when all kinds of long season stuff goes in: the melons, the summer squash, the cucumbers, the tomatoes. Sitting on our hands for that whole month kinda set the pace," Murtha said. 

And the crops they were able to plant struggled mightily.

"Just dealing with precipitation events of three to five inches at a go, that's like biblical. And on top of that we had so little sun this summer, if it wasn't raining it seemed like it was cloudy. And the few days we had that were sunny so brutally hot."

Potatoes, summer squash and other vegetables rotted in the fields. 

"We lost 95 percent of our potatoes in the ground to rot. We got flooded out in the spring when we planted them and they never really got established well. And the other big one was winter squash. We planted almost two acres of winter squash and truth be told, the only winter squash we harvested were butternuts," he said. 

Bucks and the other three suburban counties are not on the disaster relief list, but that could change over the next few weeks.  

Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Shannon Powers says this natural disaster could touch everyone.

"Farming is so important to our economy in Pennsylvania. It's responsible for one out of every seven jobs, and $135.7 billion are poured into our economy," she said. 

Powers adds the losses were extraordinary.

"In some instances they can't get into their fields to harvest so they're losing their harvest. In other instances they may have had a bumper crop but the crops they've gathered are too wet," she said. 

Murtha is hoping that 2018 was a once-in-lifetime event for farmers, but he's worried that it may be the new normal as a result of climate change.  

"The big observation we've had here over the last few years is that the weather we're getting is just becoming so extreme. When the rains come it's just deluge, there's no more gentle showers. When it gets hot and humid it is blisteringly hot and humid," Murtha said. 

Eligible farmers have eight months to apply for federal funding.