During a meeting of farm community representatives at the Ohio Department of Agriculture on Thursday, Fayette County farmer and State Rep. Bob Peterson summed up just how unusual this year’s planting season has been.
“For the first time in my life, I missed church to sit in the seat of a tractor,” said Peterson, a former Ohio Farm Bureau president.
The sunny weather over the weekend provided a narrow window for his family to plant corn in fields that have been waterlogged due to persistent rains.
Worst season in memory?
Peterson is not alone. Many farmers and longtime observers characterized this year’s wet spring as the worst planting season in memory. The statistics back them up. A report issued Monday showed only 11 percent of corn had been planted compared to the five-year average of 80 percent.
The delayed planting now has the potential to siphon corn yields by as much as a bushel per acre per day, and even more if rains continue. Farmers who carry crop insurance are considering whether to plant a corn crop at all or seek compensation through a prevented planting provision.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Risk Management Agency provided crop insurance covering 6.4 million acres of Ohio farmland in 2010, said the agency’s Brian Frieden.
“The majority of producers in Ohio carry crop insurance,” he said.
Frieden emphasized that before farmers make any planting decisions they should first talk with their insurance agent.
Farmers must decide by June 5 whether they will seek prevented planting compensation or plant a crop.
Ohio State University Extension has provided several online resources to help farmers determine if they should opt for a prevented planting payment.
Barry Ward, an Extension production business management leader, questioned whether landlords would react negatively if farmers who rent their land let it sit fallow.
“What’s the impact going to be to agribusinesses or local communities (if farmers don’t plant a crop)?” Ward asked.
According to soybean farmer Allen Armstrong, “farm dollars turn around three to four times in our economy.”
“We all know there’s more questions than answers,” he said.
Farmers are also considering how much they need to plant to fulfill contracts or provide feed for livestock.
Produce also feeling pain
The pain is shared by produce growers, whose crops are typically not insurable, said Lisa Schacht, a Franklin County farmer and president of the Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association.
Schacht said she is remaining optimistic, but is bracing for tight supplies and lower yields. “Great lengths are being used to get crops in” she said.
The rains have also produced challenges for farmers attempting to comply with conservation programs, according to Terry Cosby of the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Farmers are unable to spread manure, rotate livestock on pasture or plant grasslands. In addition, no-till fields have been rutted out.
“I think you’re going to see a lot of tillage,” Cosby said. But fearing erosion, he cautioned “only till those areas you need to.”
NRCS may be able to work with farmers to adjust contract terms, but that will be considered on an individual basis, said Cosby, who encouraged farmers to use this time to discuss challenges with their local NRCS representative.
Ted Lozier of the Ohio Division of Soil and Water emphasized these are “extremely unusual conditions.”
“Our stream flows, they’re off the charts, and I mean literally, they’re of the charts,” he said.
A big concern for farmers, particularly in the Grand Lake St. Marys watershed, is what to do with manure as their storage reaches capacity and wet conditions prevent field application.
Lozier said there may be cooperative assistance available to help farmers transport manure to a waste treatment plant or facility with excess capacity.
Relief in sight?
The good news, according to the National Weather Service in Wilmington, is that Ohio should soon experience a drying trend. Forecast models are predicting hot, dry weather through much of next week.
“We can do a lot of work if we have a little time,” said Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Jim Zehringer.
He later noted, “We’ll probably be praying for rain in August.”