GOSHEN — Maureen Kercher drives down a gravel path off of C.R. 38 in Goshen, dust kicking up behind her SUV.
“It looks like August,” she says, getting out of her car and commenting on the dry, beige grass under her shoes.
In 31 years of working at Kercher’s Sunrise Orchards, Kercher said she doesn’t remember ever irrigating the rows of vegetables and fruit trees before the beginning of June. The unseasonably hot weather and the absence of rainfall has left farmers, like Kercher, scratching their heads and wondering what lies ahead for their crops.
May was an abnormally dry month for Elkhart County, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It marked the seventh month in a row with above-normal temperatures and the fourth consecutive month with below-normal rainfall. And unfortunately for farmers, the Indiana State Climate Office at Purdue University predicts that this trend will continue through mid-June.
“This has been a strange year,” Purdue University Extension educator Jeff Burbrink said. “I went by a couple of fields in the early part of the week, and it was visible that some of the plants were wilting a bit, and that’s pretty unusual.”
Farmers typically plant their crops three weeks ahead of the last frost, which usually comes around May 10, but Burbrink said this year, they started planting in early April.
Kercher and her team farm 800 acres of land across Elkhart County where they grow cabbage, sweet corn, pumpkins, peppers and squash as well as rows of apple and peach trees. The sizzling, dry weather will force some crops, like corn and zucchini, to be harvested earlier this year, Kercher said.
The orchards have been hit hard by this year’s “bizarre” weather, Kercher said. The mild winter followed by a cold spell in April and May’s oppressive heat have driven the trees to bear less fruit. The farm will have fewer varieties of apples to choose from at their shop, and fall apple picking will be canceled.
Linton’s Enchanted Gardens general manager Kirk Linton said he has gotten a slew questions from customers about lawn care and landscaping because of the unusually dry conditions.
“Water is the key element here,” he said. “Grass is turning brown, but the lawn isn’t dying. It just turns dormant, so rain or a good, deep watering will help the grass pull out of this.”
The National Weather Service, which keeps records for South Bend, reported that the area has received about 5.4 inches of rain this spring, roughly 4 inches lower than last year’s total.
“We’ll have to see what comes next,” Linton said. “Cooler temperatures will be welcome relief.”