Cold, wet spring dampened New York plantings, catch-up is expected
Minkus Family Farms in New Hampton, N.Y., is unlike many other commercial-scale vegetable farms in the state, and even the Northeast.
True, it’s a family farm, which is characteristic of the region.
But founder Rick Minkus didn’t start farming until 1996 — that’s pretty recent, by farming standards.
And the company’s packing facility didn’t open until seven years ago, said Dylan Dembeck, Rick’s son-in-law and director of operations at the facility since he traded in his Wall Street career five years ago.
“For the packing facility, you’re buying and selling product, so it’s not too different,” Dembeck said.
Rick’s sons, Tom and Joe Minkus, run the farming operations.
Also, while many New York growers experienced a late start this year due to a chilly, rainy end of spring and start of summer, the Minkus family had the opposite experience.
For them, the previous year was rainy and lowered production, but so far, so good this year.
The yellow and red onion grower in Orange County cultivates its region’s rich, organic black soil for about 1,500 acres of onions and cover crops today. Minkus Family Farms grows about one-third of its product, sourcing the rest from other farms locally and nationally, to pack, sell and ship.
“We’re on track to move about 80 million pounds of onions this year,” Dembeck said of the packing facility. “It started with one 50-pound bag seven years ago, so our growth is phenomenal.”
2018 versus 2017
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2018 analysis showed that out of New York State’s biggest fresh commodities by volume, apples, cabbage, cucumbers and fresh snap beans rose, while onions, sweet corn and potatoes dropped compared to the 2017 report:
> New York shipped 329.5 million pounds of apples and exported 6 million pounds in 2018, up from 293.6 million pounds and 5.6 million pounds, respectively, in 2017.
> Dry onions were at 176.7 million pounds in 2018, down from 196.2 million in 2017.
> Cabbage was at 175.9 million pounds in 2018, up from 161.6 million pounds in 2017.
> Sweet corn shipments reached 43.2 million pounds in 2018, down from 46.6 million pounds in 2017.
> Cucumbers were at 28.5 million pounds in 2018, up from 26.4 million in 2017.
> Potatoes were 26.9 million pounds in 2018, down from 33 million in 2017.
> Fresh snap bean shipments were at 20 million pounds in 2018, up from 14.7 million in 2017.
Minkus-grown storage onions were planted in early April before the rains hit and should be available by the end of August through early April, Dembeck said.
“It’s nice that it’s hot and sunny now. The cooler temperatures weren’t bad for planting,” he said.
Sweet corn comprises about three-quarters of the sales Cayuga Produce handles for Turek Farms, King Ferry, N.Y., said partner Jason Turek, fourth-generation farmer. Partnering with SM Jones in Georgia and Florida, the Tureks can offer their customers sweet corn before the New York season allows.
But the rains and chilly spring that lasted into early summer meant they couldn’t plant about 15% to 20% of their typical New York acreage, Turek said.
May was the second-wettest month on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Tureks typically start planting sweet corn in mid-April but couldn’t start until the first part of May.
“We missed the window at some points, and we’re better off to leave it than crowd the market this year,” Turek said. “The first loss is your best loss. You just skip it and move on.”
Turek expects the state’s sweet corn volume to be down a bit this year. In New York, sweet corn season typically runs from July 20 to Oct. 10, but this year, the harvest start date might not be until Aug. 8-10, Turek said.
Cabbage planting started about 2½ to 3 weeks late too, and pumpkins and other squash got in the ground, but their growth is stunted due to cool weather, so they may not be ready until October.
On the northeastern peninsula of North Fork in Long Island, Satur Farms had the same late planting and seeding challenges.
“Fields were saturated with never-ending rains, and morning temperatures were 43 degrees F in mid-June,” said owner Paulette Satur, who founded the Suffolk County farm with husband and chef Eberhard Müller, first to supply his restaurant.
The farm has since expanded and they supply other restaurant chefs, foodservice providers and retailers with leafy greens and specialty vegetables.
Every year, spring is delayed later than the previous year, with cold temperatures and rain prevailing, she said.
“For us, spring is now almost four weeks behind springs from 12-15 years ago. On the flip side, our Long Island fall season is lasting longer. It’s a sliding paradigm,” Satur said.
Apples, by far New York’s biggest fresh commodity, are expecting a good crop this year, said Cynthia Haskins, president of the New York Apple Association.
Early season estimates will be around 31 million bushels, which is on par with the state’s five-year average, she said. Last year, the association estimated about the same, but numbers came in a little higher.
“New York has had rain, but as of late, great summer weather has emerged with some nice warmer weather,” Haskins said.
Despite the cold, wet spring, New York’s berry crops are in good shape, said Marvin Pritts, berry crop specialist and horticulture professor at Cornell University.
Strawberry season has been drawn out with some farms finishing harvest by early July and others just opening, yet yields have been high throughout the state, he said.
The raspberry crops look good at the start of July, as farms are just beginning to harvest both red and black raspberries.
“The blueberry crop looks to be one of the best ever as temperatures this winter were not too cold and there was plenty of moisture this spring. Blueberries are less susceptible to fruit fungi than most other berry crops, so they thrive in rainy springs,” Pritts said.
The biggest threat for late blueberries and fall raspberries could be an early visit by spotted wing drosophila, which was trapped in most counties about a month earlier than in some other years.