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Farmers watching weather closely as seasonal planting window narrows

As it is every year, local farmers are playing the weather lottery. What numbers will come up, nobody knows.

In the meantime, they're planning their crops, waiting for a little dry spell and a bit warmer weather to start planting.

"We always hope every single year that Mother Nature will give us a good growing year," said Barbie Starowitz, of Star Growers Farm in Elba. "We think that every year. We hope every year for a good year just to pay the bills."

For many crops, now is the ideal time for getting seeds in the ground, but when the soil is still too soft from rain or the temperature still a bit cold (as it's expected to be for the next few nights), then farmers may run out of time to sow all their fields, if any.

CY Farms has started planting onions -- as have other farmers -- because, as CEO Craig Yunker says, "the muck is more forgiving," but his crews still haven't started on peas or corn.

Yunker said they like to start planting around April 1 and corn seed should start going in the ground by April 20. So far, CY has yet to plant a single acre of corn or peas.

"We'd like to get going," Yunker said.

This year, CY Farms will return to growing cabbage. The Yunkers made headlines last year when they decided to forgo cabbage.

Craig Yunker cited three reason for cutting the crop: The uncertainty raised by the employer mandate in Obamacare; the loss of labor to an immigration audit; and the high price of corn.

This year, the employer mandate is delayed for at least a year (allowing CY Farms to employ more than 50 people); Yunker has been able to find some qualified help to replace the workers he lost; and corn has dropped nearly $2 in price per bushel and is now trading at just under $5.

Those three factors led Yunker and his managers to decide to cut corn acreage this year and grow cabbage again.

For Star Growers, the crop mix will be pretty much the same as always -- corn, peas, soybeans, wheat, cabbage and onions.

Most of what Star grows goes to canning factories, either Seneca or Bonduelle.

"We've been waiting for a good growing season, but Mother Nature seems pissed at us," Starowitz said. "It's either too wet or too dry."

Like Star Growers, MY-T Acres grows mainly for canners and food processors. Pete Call said this year's crop will be pretty much like the last few years: green beans, peas, cabbage, potatoes for potato chips, spinach, sweet corn, red beets, grain corn, wheat, rye, oats and alfalfa.

We couldn't reach Torrey Farms, another large crop farm in the county, for comment.

Top Photo: Craig Yunker, CY Farms, with buckets of onion seeds. Each bucket holds 500,000 seeds and costs the farm $1,410. "It's the most expensive seed we buy," Yunker said. Below, preparing the muck to be seeded.

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