TILTON - About 60 farmers and farm workers happily greeted crowds Saturday at the Tilton Winter Farmers Market, but most said there is trouble ahead at their farms.
The long winter and lingering snowpack are causing problems and costing them money, the farmers said. At every table, farmers had the same, solemn reaction when asked about the past winter.
"That's the worst winter I've ever had to deal with," said Andy Howe of Beans & Greens Farm in Gilford. "There's still a lot of snow on my fields."
All said spring planting of crops will be delayed, some said by as much as a month. Late April greens and grains will not likely be available until May this year, and local meat production will be slowed.
Farmers spoke of various "dilemmas" they face. Although longer-term crops, such as strawberries and corn, might not be affected much, the coming growing season will be shortened.
Those raising animals still have them in barns, as there is no leftover fall grass or brush for food.
"I just had to buy 200 extra bales of hay because we have 300 sheep and there's nothing in our fields for them to eat. There's just 3 feet of snow," said Scott Clark of the 80-acre Meadowview Farm in Gilmanton, which produces eggs, lamb, beef, maple syrup and jams. "We'll be at least four weeks behind on just about everything."
Most vegetable farmers said they have seedlings and young plants ready to plant, but there's nowhere to plant them.
Luke Mahoney of the 400-acre Brookford Farm in Canterbury estimates a three-week delay for his crops.
"We're ready to go, but nature is not helping," he said. "Two years ago, we were working the fields in mid-March, but now that's obviously not something we'll be able to do for a while now."
Eric Sawyer of Spring Hill Farm in Sanbornton said his regular April planting of potatoes and spring greens will be delayed, as will preparation of his fields for other crops. And though most people think of mud season in reference to dirt roads in the spring, farmers have a mud season after the winter snow melts. That's cause for worry this year.
"There's 2 feet of snow out there now, and even when it melts, we're going to have a tough mud season. The ground will quickly become saturated with water," Sawyer said.
Fred Martin, a beekeeper and owner of Carriage Hill Honey in Wolfeboro, said beekeepers always lose hives in the winter to the cold. But this winter, he's lost half of his hives. Worse yet, the resuppliers of bees and hives in southern Atlantic states lost a lot of bees to the bad weather there, Martin said.
"My resupplier doesn't have enough supplies," Martin said. "There's a delay in the honey season. We'll catch up, but it's going to be a slow start."
Howe said his 60 acres of fields won't be ready for crop planting on time, but fortunately he has a lot of greenhouse space. He will pay more this year in labor and upkeep costs to grow hundreds of plants indoors.
"We'll be planting a lot indoors, so we shouldn't be behind with much," Howe said. "We're looking at delays in getting crops into the field. We have things growing, but there's obviously nowhere to plant yet."
There are a few good things about the long, cold, snowy winter in terms of crops, Sawyer said.
"The nice thing is the snow insulated and protected things like strawberries and parsnips, so the deer haven't been eating them," he said.
The Tilton Winter Farmers Market, on Route 3 across from Autoserv of Tilton, is open today from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.