“If it’s not one thing it’s another,” Roseanne Roseannadanna famously said on Saturday Night Live, which resonates as we recall some of this past summer’s agricultural challenges.

First there was the spongy moth invasion, decimating foliage; and then came the drought—potentially dashing the recovery of some of our trees.

Growers in particular had reason to question their vocational (or avocational) choices, as the animal kingdom reaped the fruits of the farmers’ labors while broadening their own diets.

Bill Hurlburt plants corn (in partnership with a Canaan dairy farm) on 62 acres on Cream Hill Road to help feed the 60-plus beef cattle in his herd. Photos and drone footage (posted on the Chronicle website) show the havoc wrought by a group of bears, flattening and feeding on acres of corn. The sight of a mother and her adorable cubs playing there (and quickly hiding in the cornfield at the sound of the drone) is little compensation for the frustrating and economically damaging activity. Corn seed and fertilizer are expensive, not to mention the labor involved in cultivation.

Other local growers had different problems. For them, it was the usual critters, only the damage was magnified by the drought. Animals adapted by attacking whatever plants made it through the dry conditions.

So, Larry Stevens’ sweet corn intended for people was in short supply. ”It’s always been raccoons, but this year it was the gray squirrel. I’ve never had a problem like this,” he said. He lost 90% of one crop, as the squirrels would climb the stalk and clean every kernel off the cob. Fortunately for Larry, this pursuit is more of a hobby, he claims.

Joyce and Phil Hart had a similar issue on their small tomato and corn patches. They managed to enjoy the first crop, but the second crop of each was enjoyed by the squirrels. Joyce was philosophical, and speculated, “There were no hawthorn berries, raspberries, blackberries, or hickory nuts this year; the squirrels went for the tomatoes and the moisture.”

At Ridgway Farm, only the first of four plantings of corn came in; the rest produced no ears. Chipmunks decimated the tomatoes and raccoons ate the melon crop. It seemed to Gordon Ridgway that if the plant survived the drought, the critters got to it. “We’ve never planted more in any year and gotten less harvested,” he said.

Bears destroyed 25% of Henry Russ’ corn crop a couple of years ago, but not much this year. Instead, it was deer. Squirrels and chipmunks took the vegetable garden.

With an extremely low statewide acorn crop, expect deer to munch closer to our doors and squirrels to crowd the bird feeders this winter. Be prepared. And while acorns are part of a bear’s diet, with any luck they’ll be hibernating somewhere—hopefully Canada.         

—Tom Barrett

Photo & Video Credit: Spencer Markow