Tim Leary pauses after planting summer squash at Leary Farm in Saco. Though he is concerned about the dry conditions, he is more worried about the cost of diesel fuel, which he uses to run his irrigation system. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

A lack of rain over the past month has left the coast of Maine and northern and western parts of the state abnormally dry, creating headaches for farmers and gardeners at the start of the growing season.

May 2022 was the third driest May since 2000. The average rainfall for May over the past 22 years has been 3.7 inches. This May, the Portland area received just 1.12 inches of rainfall.

Some farmers say they have begun irrigating their fields earlier than usual rather than relying on Mother Nature to dampen soils.

Relief, however, may be on its way in the days ahead, according to the National Weather Service Office in Gray.

Meteorologist Steven Baron on Wednesday night said that the weather service is forecasting that between a ½ inch and 1 inch of rain will fall over the greater Portland area during the next 72 hours. Up to a ½ inch of rain could fall Wednesday night, with more rain in the forecast for Thursday and Friday.

“It has been abnormally dry in May,” Baron said.


The entire coast of Maine from Kittery to Lubec has been listed as abnormally dry with sections of western Somerset County experiencing moderate drought conditions, according to the latest data provided by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

In addition to coastal areas, sections of extreme northern Aroostook, Piscataquis and Franklin counties are listed as abnormally dry.

According to the National Integrated Drought Information System or NIDIS, about 33 percent of Maine has been experiencing abnormally dry conditions – a notch below moderate drought conditions. Abnormally dry conditions can stunt crop growth, delay plantings and wilt gardens. Those conditions also can elevate fire danger.


Tim Leary owns and operates the Leary Farm in Saco. He is concerned about the dry conditions, but is more worried about the cost of diesel fuel, which he uses to run his irrigation system. The more moisture in the ground, the less he has to rely on his irrigation system to water crops. He has been paying up to $6 a gallon for diesel.

“The only thing more expensive than irrigating is not irrigating,” he said.


Leary said he started planting crops in April, a process that is typically done in phases through July. Because of abnormally dry conditions, he started irrigating crops a few days ago. Leary Farm grows sweet corn, cucumbers, squash, cabbage and cut flowers. Leary operates farm stands on Flag Pond Road and Portland Road in Saco.

Tim Leary and Trevor Nason plant summer squash from the back of a tractor at Leary Farm in Saco, Wednesday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Justin Gray is the farm manager for produce at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester. Gray said his crews started irrigating fields earlier than usual due to an unusually dry month of May. In the past, Pineland Farms has not had to resort to irrigation until July.

Irrigating is more labor intensive and costly due to the price of fuel, Gray said. Pineland Farms started irrigating about 2 ½ weeks ago.


“There is not a lot of moisture in the soil right now,” Gray said. “We got some rain over the weekend, but if we hadn’t got that we’d have been in trouble.”

Gray is hoping for a stretch of steady rain to help Pineland Farms get over this dry stretch.


John and Ramona Snell operate Snell Family Farm on the River Road in Buxton. They grow a wide variety of vegetables that they sell to retailers and at their farm stand.

Their crews have been transplanting tomatoes and peppers from the farm’s greenhouse to fields, but the extremely dry conditions have required that the Snells set up their irrigation system. John Snell said under ideal conditions one inch of rain a week would be sufficient to sustain his crops. May proved to be challenging with just over one inch of rainfall.

Like other Maine farmers, he is hoping that June will bring more bouts of steady rain.

“Anything will help,” he said.

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