High heat and little rain spell trouble for area farmers

CHESTERFIELD, N.J. - July 17, 2012

This is what's saving Nick Russo's 250 acres of fruits and vegetables: irrigation pumps.

They're running 24 hours a day at his family's Chesterfield farm to water the corn, tomatoes and other crops he grows, crops that are struggling in this blistering heat.

"This extreme heat that we're in right now and such a long period of time, these 90--95 degree days we cannot keep up," Nick told Action News. "Half the water we put down evaporates."

Russo says someone gets up every couple hours during the middle of the night to check on and move the irrigation pumps. Under these extreme conditions the crops need to be watered around the clock.

Even with that, you can see the leaves on young corn plants just curling up. The pumpkins for fall looked withered and wilted as they struggle to grow. And the orchard of granny Smith apples could use some sun block.

"Some of the apples are starting to sunburn," said Nick. "They can't take this extreme heat. Hot every day, every day. They start to burn and of course you lose the fruit."

"Eventually after it's sunburned it'll actually turn brown undeneath the skin so it's deemed unsellable," said Michael Russo. "We won't be able to sell it."

Because of the stress the heat causes, some plants don't pollinate and lose their flowers. The corn that's coming in looks great, but crops that were planted weeks apart are all coming in at the same time.

"The beds are warmed up all day long," said Marilyn Russo. "They have that heat and then it doesn't cool down at night. They'll hold in the heat so it's going to grow faster."

As the pumps continue spraying what's already in the ground, Nick Russo says he'd like to put in cabbage and broccoli right now but the plants would burn up in the field.

He says about the only thing thriving in this extreme heat are weeds. But that's not a crop he can sell.

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