Farm Viability Spotlight: Lull Farm

Author: 
Ben Hill

In attempts to highlight producers throughout New Hampshire and the struggles they face to remain viable, we've interviewed several farmers, fishers and food producers. This October, we sat down with Andrew Orde of Lull Farm to discuss the impact the drought has had on their business and livelihood. Andrew and his father David Orde run the farm in Hollis, where they cultivate over 250 acres of mixed vegetables, hay, tree fruit, beef cattle, turkeys, chickens and laying hens.

NH Food Alliance: What kinds of crops/animals do you raise at Lull?

Andrew Orde: We are a diversified fruit and vegetable farm growing primarily for direct retail markets, but also some wholesale. Some of our primary crops include fruit trees (apples, peaches, nectarines, cherries, plums and apricots), sweet corn, pumpkins, tomatoes, summer squash, eggplant, peppers, green beans, greens (lettuce, cabbage, kale, chard), potatoes, onions, strawberries and blueberries. We raise chickens, cows, turkeys and we make hay. We also have a greenhouse operation where we grow annuals, perrenials and vegetables.  

NH Food Alliance: How has the drought affected your day-to-day work?

Andrew Orde: I have spent a significant amount of time trying to provide water to our crops, first by setting up pipes and using conventional overhead irrigation; later as water sources dried up, I have had to transport water by truck or tractor to pump under black plastic mulch to keep things alive. This has at times, been an all-day every-day job merely to keep things going. This adds to the cost of production and reduces the profit, but without it we would not harvest anything at all. 

In some areas work has decreased; for example, we lost 95 percent of our early corn fields so there was nothing to pick or sell. We received no rain all summer so the hay fields did not grow and there was no second-cut at all; this is typically 3-4 weeks of work. The grass in the orchards also did not grow, so there was slightly reduced mowing needs.

We have experienced a huge water shortage and have had multiple irrigation sources dry up. We have had an excavation company come and dig irrigation ponds deeper, but the benefits were extremely short-lived. We have additionally had a water shortage at the greenhouse/retail which has affected our ability to water plants.

NH Food Alliance: What is the biggest impact the drought has had on the farm this season?

Andrew Orde: The drought has reduced yields, primarliy on the crops we cannot irrigate: corn, pumpkins, apples and hay. These three account for the majority of the land we use. Fruit size on apples is well below average, combined with other natural factors that led to a small number of fruit. This means we will have an extremely small apple crop. The complete absence of a second crop of hay is a huge loss. Pumpkin plants did not set fruit and put out runners as they should, so some fields are nearly empty.

Some crops were less affected becuase we have better irrigation sources, or because we put so much work into hauling water.

We have a surplus of labor and reduced yields but due to contractual obligations, migrant workers must remain here. The extra labor costs are a large financial drain. Some crops also still require maintenance and care, despite a reduced crop or no crop at all.

The drought has also had a large impact on our successive plantings, since germination was delayed and then happened simultaneously once we received rain. Most seedlings then died post germination due to low soil moisture; other seeds became cooked in the soil and became unviable before germination happened. Drought stress also affected maturation, sometimes forcing plants to speed up. These effects were most noticeable in corn and beans, where we have many successive plantings. Timing was chaotic due to unpredictable and inconsistent germination and maturation. This ultimately led to us losing entire fields that ripend at the incorrect time.

NH Food Alliance: Is there anything else you would like to share, or like NH citizens to know? How can people help?

Andrew Orde: Support your local farms as much as you are able, all year long. Be understanding of the struggles we continually experience. This season will put some area farms out of business, and put a huge strain on those who make it. No farm has had it easy this year. We rely so much on nature and weather, and none of us have any control over it.  

 

If you would like to read more about Lull Farm, click here to read New Hampshire Farms Network's recent farm profile.  Visit Lull Farm in Hollis seven days a week, from 7am to 7pm, and in Milford from April through January.