Orleans Deals With Growing Pains (And Pleasures) At Putnam Farm

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Conservation , Agriculture & Farming

Off-plot storage is an issue for growers at Putnam Farm. This barn, seen in 2018, is no longer standing. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

ORLEANS — There were pluses and minuses in the third year of growing at Putnam Farm, Conservation Agent John Jannell told the agricultural advisory committee Jan. 11. “The 2020 season was a good season,” he said of the five plots in the conservation area not far from the district courthouse. “We had five full growers for the first time through the season out there. Everyone was active.” Even so, “I’m not sure I can call it a success yet,” Jannell said. “I think the growers are having individual success, but I’m still not able to run a successful operation from an administrator viewpoint. I think we’ve still got a lot more work to do.” Last year “was a wicked dry year,” he said. “Water use was very high.” Bills from the water department totaled $2,027.58 for the growing season. “With revenues at $250 per plot, we’re only raising $1,250,” Jannell said. “We squared up the bills this year with the repair and maintenance account, but I will not be able to do that next year… We’re forced to talk about plot rate increases.” It might be necessary to double the rates to $500 to ensure paying for water in another dry season, according to Jannell, who added, “I’ve got zero cushion in this account as of now.” One option would be to install meters to measure water use on each plot, thus incentivizing water conservation. “If the guys and girls are using water judiciously, we could come back next year and lower these rates,” said Jannell. “We can utilize some older meters the water department has in the shop.” Putnam’s farmers are already being careful with water, according to grower James Rosato. “I use a mix of drip and overhead (irrigation),” he said. “We all have irrigation or timers or hand-watering. I think everyone is using pretty prudent irrigation practices at this time.” The committee batted around options such as billing half the increased fee at the start of the season and the rest at its conclusion, or paying growers back if the fees add up to more than the season’s cost for water. “If the plots were smaller, less water would be used,” committee chair David Light said. “This would apply to the next generation of leases (that could start) with 1,000 square feet instead of 4,500.” “I think the four of us who are coming back (one plot is available this spring) are all on track toward conservation,” Rosato said. “One of the big things is the organic content in the soil. As the soil improves, we’ll see some benefits.” Grower Aaron Hirst said he probably uses the most water and would “feel bad if you hiked the rates on everyone. I’m very in favor of meters showing how much water individual growers use. That would help me be more judicious. I feel like I could have used less water last year and could have paid more. We shouldn’t make a decision (on rates) until we figure out a possible way to track water cheaply.” With fees for 2021 due in April, Jannell will follow up with the water and finance departments and also prepare a map showing potential off-plot storage areas for growers. After another meeting with the committee, he’ll bring the proposals to the conservation commission on Feb. 2.