Farm Progress

Warm East Coast winter is affecting farmers and equipment sales.

Andy Castillo

March 2, 2024

3 Min Read
showgoers at the New York Farm Show in Syracuse, N.Y
BALMY WEATHER: Showgoers at the New York Farm Show in Syracuse, N.Y., enjoy a 50-degree-F day.Andy Castillo

Amid a winter season marked by warm weather and temperature swings, Northeast farmers flocked to Syracuse, N.Y., to browse vendor booths showcasing the latest equipment trends at the annual New York Farm Show.

Earlier in February, Syracuse saw record warmth Feb. 9-10, when temperatures peaked at 63 and 61degrees F, respectively. The mild season is impacting farmers and equipment dealers throughout the region.

“The weather has played an important deal in it. Hopefully, in the spring, we’ll sell,” said Randy Groves, a representative from New York-based Ranmar Tractor Supply about the slow business season so far. Ranmar Tractor Supply is in the snow belt and typically sells a lot of snow-moving equipment during the winter. The region averages 240 inches of snowfall annually, but has only seen around 36 inches this year, according to Groves. 

Warmer weather

“We saw trees tapped three weeks ago,” said Debbie Maitland, who farms Calamity Acres Farm in Adams, N.Y., along with her husband, Bob Maitland. They were at the show browsing products in the Horticulture Building. “The maple trees are budding, and the apple trees are thinking about it.”

Bob Maitland said he’s concerned about how the lack of snowfall will impact crops come growing season.

“Hopefully, we’ll make up for it with rain,” he said. “You have to gear up and be ready.”

This year’s mild winter has several causes, among them a strong El Niño that has remained in place. Along with Syracuse, Buffalo, Binghamton, Albany and Rochester, N.Y., also recorded heat records in February, along with Williamsport, Pa.; Burlington, Vt.; and Caribou and Portland, Maine, according to the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University. The region as a whole is expected to surpass its previous record. Average temperatures ranged from 3.6 to 11.9 degrees above normal in areas of the Northeast. The impact on farms is felt in many ways.

“The mud is horrible,” said Andy Brooks, who runs Hare Brooks Farm in Marion, N.Y., with his wife, April, and business partner Tyler Hares. 

“Knee-deep mud, every day,” April said, noting that swings in winter temperatures are driving financial loss. “I lost four animals due to pneumonia,” she said, noting that cows do better with gradual changes in weather. Andy agreed: “I’ve seen more hoof rot with my sheep.”

Warmer, wetter spring and summer

The above-average temperatures aren’t expected to let up come spring. The National Weather Service's long-term weather outlook for the East Coast calls for a good chance of higher-than-normal temperatures and precipitation beginning in May and continuing through July.

East Coast farmers are hoping they’ll catch a break.

Last year, “we lost our sweet corn crop,” said Kevin Watkins, owner of Snik-Taw Farm in Utica, N.Y., which sells its harvest through a local farm stand and raises 30 head of beef. “We got three meals for the family. That’s it.”

In the face of challenges, Watkins said farmers are tough. They’ll rise to the task. “If farming was easy, we’d all be millionaires,” he said. “We survive one way or another.”

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About the Author(s)

Andy Castillo

Andy Castillo started his career in journalism about a decade ago as a television news cameraperson and producer before transitioning to a regional newspaper covering western Massachusetts, where he wrote about local farming.

Between military deployments with the Air Force and the news, he earned an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Bay Path University, building on the English degree he earned from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He's a multifaceted journalist with a diverse skill set, having previously worked as an EMT and firefighter, a nightclub photographer, caricaturist, features editor at the Greenfield Recorder and a writer for GoNomad Travel. 

Castillo splits his time between the open road and western Massachusetts with his wife, Brianna, a travel nurse who specializes in pediatric oncology, and their rescue pup, Rio. When not attending farm shows, Castillo enjoys playing music, snowboarding, writing, cooking and restoring their 1920 craftsman bungalow.

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