Farmers seeing crops stunted by weather

Don Wiley hopped onto his shovel, slicing into the dry ground around a garlic bulb, which he plucked and threw behind him.

CMI staff photo: Gabriel Monte

Curry County farmer Don Wiley holds up bulbs of garlic he grew in his farm. Wiley said harsh weather has stunted his crops. In a good year the garlic bulbs grow to the size of baseballs.

CMI staff photo: Gabriel Monte

Curry County farmer Don Wiley inspects crop of topsetting onions on his farm. Wiley said the onions will be part of the produce he will sell at the famers markets in Clovis and Portales.

He pointed at the dozens of golf-ball sized garlic bulbs scattered on the ground. On a good year, he said, they were the size of baseballs. But this year, lack of rain, steady high winds and heat combined to diminish the crops he plans to sell at the Clovis and Portales farmers markets, which start in next two weeks.

While it's too early to estimate how much his crops will yield, he expects to produce a little more than last year, which was 50 percent less than he got in 2010.

"When it's 90-plus degrees and there's a lot of wind it's like trying to grow something under a blowtorch," said Wiley, who has planted a majority of the 30 crops he grows in a greenhouse to protect them from the elements.

This year he's also growing a new crop: Fennel.

"It makes a bulb that tastes like licorice. You can cook it and add it to salads," he said.

Other local farmers are also seeing crops stunted by the weather.

Margie Plummer, a farmer and the farmers market director for Clovis and Portales, said she expects her crops to yield little produce this year.

"It's bad, the plants are just trying to stay alive, struggling to produce and grow. The water we put on is just keeping them alive," she said.

Plummer said she grows cabbage, tomatoes, pumpkins, watermelons, black-eyed peas and other vegetables in 20 acres of land. She said the average vendor has around two acres of land in which they plant crops.

This year's farmers markets start July 7 in Clovis and on July 9 in Portales and will last until the end of October, Plummer said. A grand opening will be held in August, she said.

The Portales farmers market will be on the corner of First and Avenue B, while the Clovis location will be moved from Fourth and Pile Streets to the Goodwin Lake Walking Trail on North Prince.

Wiley, 52, has been growing produce in his Curry County farm since 1998. Before that, he was a jet engine mechanic with the Air Force for 21 years who had a gardening hobby.

He said gardening was something he picked up from his parents, who had a dairy farm in Wheatherford, Texas.

His last assignment before moving to Cannon Air Force Base was in Osan, Korea, where he lived in a dorm and had no access to a garden.

It was after that assignment that he decided to start a farm and grow vegetables.

When he started his garden after moving to Cannon, he gave his surplus hauls to friends. But he started selling at the farmers markets when he had too much to give away. He then expanded his garden from a 50 by 20 feet plot of land to two acres.

Wiley says he expects to make little profit with this year's haul, but says he plans to build more greenhouses for better yields in the future.

For now, he considers his gardening to be a giant hobby. And he doesn't plan on stopping anytime soon.

"It's kind of like a fisherman. If he goes out fishing and doesn't catch anything, he still fishes," he said. "He does what he enjoys."

Fast facts

What: Farmers market opening

When: 8 a.m. July 7 in Clovis; 5 p.m. July 9 in Portales. Regular hours are 8 a.m. Saturdays in Clovis and 5 p.m. Mondays and Thurdsays in Portales.

Where: Goodwin Lake Walking Trail parking lot in Clovis and First and Avenue B in Portales.

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