Drought taking toll on farmers’ markets

Kevin Wilson

The drought in Curry County hasn’t stopped Don Wiley from getting ready for annual farmers’ markets in both Clovis and Portales.

“We’re in a dry part of the world anyway,” said Wiley, who grows about 30 varieties of vegetables for the twice-weekly sales. “I’ve always been prepared. I use drip irrigation. Drought in this part of the country is not unusual. This kind of drought is, though.”

The numbers are sobering. Raymond Jojola, a meteorological technician for the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, said Clovis has received .42 inches of rain in 2011, while Portales has received .08 inches.

Assuming those numbers hold — and they should, with the NWS predicting no precipitation for the rest of May — they compare to an average January-May rainfall of 3.99 inches for Clovis and 3.84 inches for Portales.

Clovis’s market will start June 18 with 5 p.m. Tuesday and 8 a.m. Saturday markets at the intersection of Fourth and Pile streets. Portales markets will start June 20 with 5 p.m. Monday and Thursday markets at the corner of W. First Street and Avenue B.

Margie Plummer, organizer of both the Clovis and Portales markets, said the drought conditions won’t delay the markets from starting. However, it could affect when certain items are available, and how much those items will be.

“We didn’t have much produce until May because it was dry and windy, and people couldn’t plant,” Plummer said. “We will be opening on those dates, but there will be limited amounts.”

The early markets will likely be heavy on onions and potatoes, which don’t require much water, then squash, cucumbers and beans later. Some fruits and vegetables might not be available until August, said Plummer, who also grows for the markets.

“If it would start raining right now, it would help,” Plummer said. “But almost everything takes 50 to 60 days to make. We always start our tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse and transfer them. Some years, we can transfer earlier.”

Farmers have workarounds like greenhouses and irrigation. But many of those are cost-prohibitive — Wiley said he’s spending an extra $100 a month on water compared to last year — and it doesn’t negate other factors.

“I think the price of gasoline,” Wiley said, “is going to affect the price more than a lack of water.”