Business down at produce stands, but farmers persevere

  • Comments
  • Print

The summer's selection hasn't been as bountiful this year at Stout's Melody Acres.

Red, green and orange peppers, usually bigger than a fist, are a bit punier than in years past. The few ears of corn don't have the robust size and fully developed kernels that Indiana is known for.

Even the hot chili peppers haven't been able to take the heat.

"Folks want some nice-sized produce, but that's just not what we have because of this drought," owner Randy Stout said. "Everybody is understanding. They know we're in this drought, and a lot of people are surprised we have anything at all."

All along area roads and at weekend markets, farmers are trying to offer their usual summer bounty of tomatoes, sweet corn and green beans.

Fields throughout Johnson County dried up, with entire corn crops lost and soybeans in danger of following. For weeks, yards were a dead-looking brown, and gardens had shriveled up.

But while the drought is affecting the availability and size of produce that people can pick up, a combination of irrigation, planning and luck has farm stands open for business this summer.

"I'm 81, and I've lived on a farm all of my life. This is the worst I've ever seen it," said Trafalgar farmer Bill Ray.

Ray normally sells green beans and corn, among other produce, at a farmers market stand in Franklin. But for seven weeks of the summer, normally his prime earning season, he had next to nothing to sell.

The heat and dry weather left his corn weak and thin. Birds devoured more than 6½ acres that did grow. Only in the past two weeks, as the temperature has dipped and rain has fallen, has he been able to offer close to his normal production.

He expects his sales to be down at least 60 percent, and that's assuming he can salvage some of his acreage in the next month.

"With this rain, hopefully we'll come back as good as we have been in the past. Maybe we'll make up a little bit of that in the fall," Ray said.

Other local produce stands are coming alive at the end of the season.

Stacks of sweet corn stock the tables at Weaver's Produce markets in Shelbyville and Franklin. While entire fields of corn were lost this summer, the Weavers' 26-acre plot received a fortuitous bit of luck.

Right around the middle of July, as corn plants were pollinating and kernels were setting, the farm received a 2-inch blast of rain.

"Up until that, we had a lot of gaps in the kernels. But once we got that rain, it came about as good as we could have expected," owner Jeremy Weaver said. "Then the heat dropped back a little, and it's come along."

The farm's four acres of tomatoes, green beans, peppers and zucchini were irrigated with a drip-hose system that delivered a stream of water to the roots of the plants.

The tomato plants in particular have emerged with big, ripe fruit in the past two weeks.

"But we're thinking it's a little bit too late. The fruit set didn't happen until later because of the intense heat. We're just starting to get that good fruit we usually see," Weaver said.

Usually to this point in the summer, the farm sells 400 to 500 dozen ears of corn each day. Their sales are down to about 100 or 150 dozen this year, Weaver said.

"This year and last year, it's been two back-to-back years when we've struggled. It's been brutal," Weaver said. "If you think about $4 for a dozen, that's going from $1,600 each day to $400."

As of Aug. 7, all of Johnson County was in an extreme drought, and the western half was considered in an exceptional drought.

The weather in Johnson County has forced some farm markets to look elsewhere for their produce.

Joe Mathena runs his farm stand along a busy stretch of U.S. 31, just north of Franklin. Baskets filled with deep red tomatoes, melons the size of basketballs and bushels of sweet corn line the shelves.

Health issues prevented him from planting crops the past few years, so Mathena bought his produce from a farm in Spencer. He's had to search out growers from southern Indiana who irrigate to get vegetables.

But while his supplier has provided him with produce, it's come at an increased cost.

"It's affected everyone the same around here. People have been hit hard," Mathena said.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In