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Fewer modern farmers rely on almanacs for insights

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BOSTON — Scott Freitas' grandmother always followed the farmer's almanac, but the fourth-generation farmer never does.

Selling corn and apples at a recent farmer's market in Boston, Freitas said the almanacs are more for fun than real-life farm use, and he relies on experience instead.

"I do what our family's been doing," he said.

Many farmers like Freitas say farmer's almanacs, known for their catchy weather predictions, are no longer a go-to source in the Information Age. Some, however, still turn to the centuries-old booklets for long-range weather predictions. The 2013 edition of the Old Farmer's Almanac hit shelves Wednesday.

"In the early days, I suppose it used to be the main source of information, maybe the only source of information," said Annie Cheatham, executive director of the New England Farmers Union, which gets a copy of the Old Farmer's Almanac every year. "Of course, that's changed a lot with satellite information."

The 221-year-old Old Farmer's Almanac based in New Hampshire — not to be confused with the slightly younger Farmer's Almanac based in Maine — predicts a cold winter in the East, South and Southwest and a mild winter in the Midwest, heartland and West Coast. Summer, however, will be warmer on the West and East Coasts and cooler throughout the rest of the country.

The Old Farmer's Almanac, which boasts a 3.1 million print circulation plus digital versions, is used by all audiences, not just farmers, editor Janice Stillman said.

Gardeners, ranchers, roofers, astronomy clubs and brides-to-be turn to the book for weather, astronomy and recipe information, she said.

"A lot of the folks who buy the Old Farmer's Almanac grew up on farms or their parents or grandparents did," said Stillman, who gardens but doesn't farm, and checks the weather predictions for her own travel plans. "Whether they read it in the bathroom or in the kitchen, it's something they always want to have on hand."

Richard Bonanno, president of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Board of Directors, says some farmers likely use almanacs as a general guideline for their long-range weather predictions, like whether winter will be colder or warmer than normal.

"I hear farmers talk about it all the time: 'Did you hear the almanac said it's going to be a cold winter?'" Bonanno said. "Within the agricultural community, there's still discussion about it."

But Bonanno, who is in his 50s, said younger farmers are less likely to turn to the almanac's acumen.

"Younger generations are probably checking the Internet to see what the high tide's going to be, not pulling out the almanac," he said.

Dan Tawczynski, 67, of Taft Farms in Great Barrington, Mass., said his father used an almanac but he doesn't.

"I think you're foolish to ignore it completely," he said

While almanacs aren't especially valuable to farmers, he said, they're too quaint to disappear.