04/15/12 9:00am
04/15/2012 9:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A severe drought on Long Island hasn't necessarily been a bad thing for farms.

If the giant wildfire in Manorville, Ridge and Calverton last week didn’t hint at this, the National Weather Service will tell you outright.

Long Island is currently in a severe drought warning.

According to the NWS’s U.S. Drought Monitor, a severe drought warning is third most severe condition, with exceptional and extreme droughts being the two harshest, followed by moderate and abnormally dry.

The dangers of severe drought are described as follows by the U.S. Drought Monitor: “Crop or pasture losses likely; fire risk very high; water shortages common; water restrictions imposed.”

But for Long Island, this is the first time since August of 1999 that we’ve been in a severe drought situation, according to NWS meteorologist Mike Layer.

In August 1999, the area was in an exceptional drought warning, he said.

There are other indicators as well.

For the period from January to April 13, NWS’s rain gauge at Islip measured 5.22 inches of rain. That’s the lowest reading ever for that same time period, Mr. Layer said.

The U.S. Drought Monitor makes its drought ratings weekly each Thursday, so that rating applies to what’s already happened, Mr. Layer said.

However, what’s predicted to happened doesn’t indicate much difference.

“Over the next week, it doesn’t seem like much will change in terms of precipitation,” Mr. Layer said.

There is a possibility of rain Sunday for part of the day, but only about a tenth of an inch, Mr. Layer said.

“After that, we’re expecting warm and dry conditions until at least mid-week,” he said.

Aquebogue farmer Lyle Wells said the drought works out pretty well for his farm, and is much better than the wet conditions that existed at this time last year.

“Without the wet fields, we’re able to plant seeds and don’t have to worry about them rotting in the fields,” he said. “As long as you’re set up with irrigation, this is preferable.”

Most farmers get all the water they need from irrigation pumps, he said, so the lesser amounts of rain aren’t a problem.

He said it’s even “pushed up the season by a week or two.”

Of course, if the lack of rain continues for a prolonged period, that could eventually cause problems, he said.

“Everything in moderation,” he said. “Last year we would have loved for the rain to stop.”

tgannon@timesreview.com

11/01/10 2:20pm
11/01/2010 2:20 PM

The Long Island Pine Barrens Society has filed a lawsuit against Suffolk County over the county Legislature’s recent move to allow more development on preserved farmland.

In the past, construction for agricultural operations was allowed to cover up to 10 to 15 percent of a preserved property, depending on the circumstances.

The new rules, adopted Sept. 16, allow farmers to develop up to 25 percent of a parcel for which development rights have been sold if they can show the county’s farmland commission that a lower limit would pose a hardship.

Permitted development includes barns, equipment storage buildings and greenhouses with foundations.

The society’s lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Riverhead, calls for farmers who have sold their development rights but also built on their land to return the money they received for the development rights.

The county responded to the suit with a prepared statement from the county attorney’s office: “The lawsuit lacks all merit and the legislation is completely lawful and valid.”

Announcing the lawsuit in a press release issued Tuesday, the Pine Barrens Society cited as a prime example of the type of development it wants to stop Center Moriches farmer Russell Weiss’s 2007 decision to remove the topsoil from his preserved farmland and erect permanent industrial greenhouses with foundations.

“The farmers can’t have their cake and eat it too,” Pine Barrens Society president Richard Amper said in the press release. “If they want to develop their land, then they can’t sell the development rights to the public.”

Mr. Amper said that the county’s farmland preservation program was approved through a public referendum and that the county’s decision to allow development on the protected properties constituted a gift of public assets without a public purpose.

Mr. Amper also recently took Southold Town to task on a property in Mattituck, which already has several greenhouses. The town is considering purchasing the development rights for this property under its own local farmland preservation program. Town officials have said that the greenhouses are within the town’s requirement that structures not cover more than 20 percent of the property.

byoung@timesreview.com