EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 28, 2013

Farmers welcome snowy weather

Farmers welcome heavy snow; insects do, too

By Alex Lippa
alippa@eagletribune.com

---- — Count local farmers among those who are happy with the heavy snowfall this month.

After a mild winter and dry spring last year, the precipitation this winter took mean good things for the state’s crops.

“Last year, the mild winter really affected the fruit crops,” said John Peters of Peters Farm in Salem. “This precipitation is good for the plants.”

Last February, just 3 inches of snow fell in Concord, according to the National Weather Service. With the month ending today, more than 40 inches had been record as of Tuesday.

The apple and strawberry crops were lighter last year, Peters said, a fact he said could be directly attributed to the unsual winter and spring.

“Things were just sprouting too early,” he said. “We were getting 70-degree days in March, which isn’t normal.”

Scott Johnson of Highland View Farm in Windham said the upcoming months are crucial for this year’s crop.

“We just need the snow to dry up between now and the second half of April,” Johnson said. “We can’t till the ground if it’s muddy.”

Snowfall totals don’t affect plants as much of the temperature does, he said.

“Consistent temperatures are better,” he said. “It’s tougher for plants to survive when they are going between cold and snow.”

But Peters said a lot of snow actually helps his strawberries.

“The snow is a good insulator for them,” he said. “We should have a better crop this year.”

A lot of snow is good for mosquitoes, too, but not so much for the people who may become infected from their bite.

Sarah MacGregor of Dragon Mosquito Control said the weather pattern will likely mean more mosquitoes this summer.

“Heavy snow leads to abundant mosquitoes,” she said. “Everything will be wet and hopping with mosquitoes.”

MacGregor expects another key factor to lead to a growth in mosquito population as well.

The state saw an increase in Eastern equine encephalitis in mosquitoes last year.

“We’re Iikely to see more EEE this summer,” MacGregor said. “This is just setting the stage for a healthy population in the spring.”

Mosquitoes won’t be the only insect benefitting from this year’s winter.

“Ticks will do pretty well,” said Alan Eaton, an entomologist with the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension. “If they have poor snow cover, then they dry out during the winter.”

But Eaton said he doesn’t expect the snow to have translate into any dramatic increase in most insect populations.

“I’m expecting to see normal levels,” he said. “We had relatively good wetness. It won’t be anything dramatic either way.”