Farmers say the region may never be out of the woods when it comes to extreme weather.

Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on Groundhog Day, meaning six more weeks of winter weather — or so the legend goes. But as last year’s drought and other extreme weather events have taught us in recent years, don’t expect to have the slightest idea what’s coming next.

Ever, even from a furry creature that some say has a reputation for being right.

So it's anyone's or anything's guess what 2017 will bring in terms of weather, but many are already preparing for the worst.

“We are definitely seeing swings in weather patterns. We have got to be prepared for change,” said Skip Jensen, field adviser for the New York Farm Bureau, which covers six Finger Lakes counties including Ontario, Wayne and Yates.

Last summer was a swing indeed from previous years when too much rain caused flooding, drainage dilemmas and lake pollution. As the water table dropped, the drought monitor shot up. Even when Canandaigua and other communities lifted water restrictions in October, the NY Drought Monitor read “severe.”

This week, much of the state was entirely free of drought based on the latest report. But according to Drought.gov, the Finger Lakes region and most of western New York remains abnormally dry.

How does it look out there?

Farmers are experiencing a double whammy: Low prices for their milk and other commodities coupled with drought impact.

When the New York Farm Bureau released its 2017 wish list last week for lawmakers, the organization reported sinking income to the tune of $1 billion, based on value of farm production statewide in 2015. That 16 percent drop in one year is expected to drop even more when 2016 figures are released, according to Farm Bureau President David Fisher.

The bureau is urging lawmakers to approve a refundable investment tax credit to help farmers. Tops on the Farm Bureau wish list, this tax credit would give farmers an incentive to reinvest in their business in the face of the down farm economy and weather-related crop losses, Fisher explained in a conference call last week.

Corn, soybeans and certain vegetables saw smaller yields in 2016. Grapes did poorly early on, with rain in September and October bringing some relief. The drought stressed vines, Jensen said. The full effect won’t be known until spring, Jensen added.

Overall, Jensen said the season did not end as badly as some had feared. Still, cash flow for farmers is tight, he said.

Looking ahead

Vegetable farmer Erin Bullock learned a lot through the drought and is still learning. Like other farmers, in production big and small, she expects extreme weather to be more the norm and she plans to be ready, as best she can.

“I want to make the farm more resilient,” said Bullock, who runs Wild Hill Farm in the West Bloomfield hamlet of Ionia.

A Cornell University graduate who has worked in farming for more than a decade, Bullock manages the 50-acre farm as a community endeavor. She doesn’t do the farmers market circuit but instead relies entirely on a community-supported agriculture concept that involves community members who share in farm upkeep and produce. Operating without chemicals, pesticides, or genetically modified organisms, the farm encompasses 20 flat acres for rotating vegetable crops with the hilly parts of the farm planted with hay.

Last year Wild Hill used a drip irrigation system that gets the water to the roots of the plant — a lifesaver in the drought. Bullock is also working on boosting the soil’s organic matter by growing cover crops (examples are winter rye and clover) that are plowed under to build a richer, spongier texture to the soil that tends to be sandy and needs a boost.

Bullock said she and other farmers are getting help by sharing information and learning the latest methods. Taking an online class through Cornell on how farms can adapt to climate change has been a big help for her, she added.

“It’s like Climate Change 101 for farmers,” Bullock said.

Last season, she experimented with mulching straw over certain crops and made some discoveries. Mulched with rye straw, “onions grew bigger by far,” she said. So Wild Hill now has 15 acres of winter rye planted that will be harvested and turned into rye straw for mulching next season.

Jensen said farmers are always looking at how they can do things better, be more efficient and beat the odds when it’s tough going.

“We want to get it right,” he said.