Mild winter, uneven rain putting strain on water

'We had the best March in our 30-year history.'

The March sunshine that warmed the fields at Sodco Inc. in North Kingstown nurtured a lush crop of bluegrass this spring and record early-season demand for turf from eager contractors, golf course managers and homeowners. More

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AGRICULTURE

Mild winter, uneven rain putting strain on water

'We had the best March in our 30-year history.'

PBN PHOTO/CHRIS SHORES
GRASS IS GREENER: Forklift operator Paul Maynard stacks pallets of sod at Sodco Inc. Mild weather has caused a spike in sales for the company.
Posted 5/14/12

The March sunshine that warmed the fields at Sodco Inc. in North Kingstown nurtured a lush crop of bluegrass this spring and record early-season demand for turf from eager contractors, golf course managers and homeowners.

It was a stark contrast to the previous March, when snow and ice covered farms and nurseries throughout the state and planting jobs were put off until people were sure there wouldn’t be another blizzard.

But weather is fickle and in agriculture too much of a good thing can quickly become bad. If the mild winter and spring is followed by a dry summer, it will almost certainly mean drought.

“We had the best March in the 30-year history of the business and definitely sold more because of the weather,” said Sodco Farm Manager John Eidson. “However, we also had to start irrigating in April for the first time in the history of the business. Overall this mild weather has been good for us, but time will tell.”

At the end of April, after dry, hot weather brought brush-fire warnings across the state, rainfall totals for the year were 7 inches below average. Last week’s showers brought the total to about 5 inches below average.

Still, despite a wet fall that included deluges such as Tropical Storm Irene that kept Rhode Island’s drinking-water reservoirs full, groundwater and the volume in local streams and ponds, which farms rely on, is still significantly below normal.

The R.I. Water Resources Board’s Drought Steering Committee, which didn’t meet at all last year, met in April and again May 8, but has not issued water use advisories.

Cooler temperatures and 3 inches of rain in late April eased the fire threat and helped close the precipitation gap, but state Division of Agriculture Chief Kenneth Ayars said it will take several storms to make up for four dry months.

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