SALEM, Ohio — Farmers in Ohio and Pennsylvania are once again finding themselves in a race against time to finish their spring planting, with many spending their Memorial Day weekend in a tractor, hoping to catch up.
Only about half of the corn crop in Ohio had been planted before Memorial Day, forcing many farmers to start and finish their planting all in a week’s time. The prevented planting deadline in Ohio is June 5. Corn planted after this date typically yields less and begins to lose its compensation value for crop insurance.
Les Bardo, of Bardo Hill Farm dairy just west of Salem, Ohio, spent the afternoon of May 22 turning some ground with a moldboard plow in a field where he still intends to plant oats.
Bardo had not yet started any planting on his farm, but said he can remember similar years when planting was just as behind.
“We do what we can do and survive,” he said. “It’s a gamble every year.”
The last big gamble for farmers came in 2011, when a record amount of rain fell across the region and pushed a majority of the planting into June. Going into the final week of May in 2011, Ohio farmers had only planted 11 percent of their corn, compared to about half this year.
Many considered 2011 the worst planting season to date, with new 100-year rainfall records as proof. But an even bigger story, arguably, was how farmers still managed to plant most of their crop in just a few days, and harvested average or better yields in the fall.
Steve Maurer, executive director for the Ohio Farm Service Agency, said conditions this year are spotty and regional. Moisture has definitely been an issue, but farmers in places like northwest and westcentral Ohio are reporting they are about done planting, Maurer said.
Elsewhere, he said some farmers have hardly anything in the ground, and some places where crops have already been planted are suffering from too much moisture.
“It’s a concern, but there’s still time,” he said. “We could still get a crop in the ground if we get a break in the weather.”
He said farmers should take the prevented planting dates seriously, but at the same time, realize “there’s no magic” to the date.
What the prevented planting date signals, he said, is a reduction in crop potential — not necessarily that the crop shouldn’t be planted.
In 2011, for example, “a lot of guys planted after that final date and they still ended up with a really good crop.”
As always, he encourages farmers to keep good records of any issues they experience, as these will be important when working with local FSA staff and insurance agents. Also, even if a farmer doesn’t participate in crop insurance, Maurer said he should still report results, because this helps in the event of potential disaster assistance programs, and it helps the farmer in the future, if he later decides to become insured.
Kenyon Koehn, a dairy and crop farmer from Stark County, said his family planted about 50 acres of corn around May 10. He said conditions are more wet now than they were then, but if the next few days hold out, he hopes to plant an additional 200 acres.
“It’s late — it’s time to get going,” he said.
And just as he’s getting a serious start on grain crops, his alfalfa hay is starting to mature. That’s been a challenge for farmers across the state, who find themselves balancing planting time with needing to make hay.
At a farmers’ breakfast May 20 in Mount Vernon, in Ohio’s Knox County, farmers discussed a hay crop that ranges from good to damaged and delayed, mostly due to cold and wet weather.
Rob Clendening, district program administrator for the Knox Soil and Water Conservation District, said his area suffered a freeze when the hay was up about 5 inches, which has set the crop back three weeks or more, he figured, with the potential to lose a whole cutting of hay.
In other regions, however, farmers have reported average to good hay growth — they just haven’t had enough dry days to do anything with it.
John Barker, OSU Extension educator in Knox County, said his county is most likely behind the state average of 40 or more percent of corn planted. He’s also received some calls from concerned farmers who have planted their corn, and it’s under water.
Typically, emerged corn will last about two days if it’s under water, he said, before it dies.
“The ground (in Knox County) already is completely saturated,” said Knox County FSA Director Katie Mills.
Like Maurer, she said farmers need to keep good records and stay in touch with their crop insurance agent. Although there is time to catch up, she said farmers should also not be afraid to complete a prevented planting claim, if it becomes necessary.
Along with alfalfa, another major crop of concern at this time is wheat. Farmers will know about the quality of their wheat as the crop begins producing heads over the next few weeks.
Some wheat is already producing heads, and in an abnormal way, according to Pierce Paul and Glen Arnold, crops experts with OSU Extension. In a recent edition of C.O.R.N. Newsletter, they both discussed “distorted wheat heads” and wheat heads that have become trapped in the leafage of the plant.
Normally, it takes just a few days for the wheat head to emerge. Several factors are to blame for the delay, including cool temperatures, they wrote.
While unsightly, these “twisted and distorted heads” usually do not have a negative effect on grain yield, they wrote, unless the distortion is severe enough to break the rachis (shaft) and prevent the flow of water and nutrients to the upper-most spikelets.
“Most of the affected heads will eventually grow out of the distortion and develop normal healthy grain,” they wrote.
The weather pattern will trend closer to normal into early June, according to Jim Noel, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Ohio.
However, he warns that the weather still favors the risk for bursts of cool and damp weather in the eastern corn and soybean belt into summer, as a results of this past winter and early spring.
“The weather pattern will be influenced by the colder-than-normal Great Lakes and Hudson Bay waters,” according to Noel.
These colder-than-normal waters will increase the chance of cooler air.
In addition, he said the cool waters of Lake Erie will likely enhance the chance of rain in northcentral and northeast Ohio into early summer — not what farmers want to hear.