REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio — It’s the wettest growing season on record, and the effects are being felt by everyone in agriculture.
That was the common message May 26 at the Ohio Department of Agriculture, where state ag and weather officials and farmers gathered to discuss the unusually wet spring.
While neighboring states are behind, as well, Ohio’s crop progress is among the worst with only 11 percent of its corn planted, compared to the 80 percent average. Soybeans stand at only 4 percent planted, compared to the 54 percent average.
“In the history of Ohio’s crop progress planting report, planting corn in Ohio has never been this far behind,” said Jim Ramey, the Ohio field office director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s statistics service.
Jeff Myers, of the National Weather Service, said conditions look to improve significantly in the Buckeye State after Saturday.
“I think we’re really undergoing a pattern change right now, in which we’re going to be going to a warmer and dryer pattern,” he said.
But even if conditions improve, it likely will be several days before some fields become dry enough to plant.
“The farms certainly are going to have to wait for the fields to dry out before they can even start,” Ramey said.
Then, the question will be how fast can farmers respond. Around-the-clock fieldwork and planting is likely when conditions improve.
“We can do a lot of work if we have a little time,” said Ohio Director of Agriculture James Zehringer, who chaired the event.
Ted Lozier, chief of the Ohio Division of Soil and Water Resources, said it was the wettest April in more than 100 years. Some 7.7 inches fell statewide, surpassing the previous record set in 1893 of 6.37 inches.
“We all know that we’re in very unusual conditions, but I just want to stress that they are extremely unusual conditions,” he said.
The state actually has been above average for rain all year. In April and May, nearly 70 percent of all days received some measurable rain. May already is at 170 percent of normal rainfall, not counting a heavy rainstorm that fell the night of May 25.
March saw 150 percent normal precipitation, and February saw 205 percent, causing stream floods go “off the charts” and fields to form ponds and soil to erode.
“There hasn’t been any time for anything to dry out,” Lozier said. “It’s just been constantly raining.”
And while the main crops aren’t getting planted, neither are cover crops or waterways — both which help prevent washouts and erosions.
Terry Cosby of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service said most of the contracts people have with NRCS to implement conservation measures aren’t being fulfilled, or even started.
Pastureland is a mess, and many farms cannot turn their livestock onto pastures until conditions improve. It’s especially a problem for farmers who depend on rotational grazing, he said, because grazing is the major food source for those animals.
“Little to no conservation practices have been installed this spring,” he said.
Cosby encourages producers to till as little ground as possible to help prevent erosion. If they have concerns with their conservation contracts, they should contact the appropriate NRCS staff.
While farmers are optimistic the weather will break, they’re also preparing for the possibility it may come too late. An important first step is to consult with your insurance agent about your policy.
“We encourage all farmers to check their crop insurance policy and talk to their crop insurance agent if it looks like they may not be able to plant by the final planting date,” said Brian Frieden, of U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management.
Those dates are June 5 for corn and June 20 for soybeans.
Some fields may be located in areas that do not dry sufficiently to plant. But officials encouraged farmers to plant as many as possible, for their own benefit and for the benefit of the food and livestock industries — which depend on strong supplies annually.
“We certainly would like to encourage as much planting as possible,” Zehringer said.
Farmers like Rep. Bob Peterson, R-85th district, of Fayette County, said it will be a “field-by-field decision.”
The fields that dry the soonest are planted. But a lot more remain.
Peterson said this will be his most expensive crop to plant, with all the major input costs going up significantly. But he’s still hopeful for good returns.
“We’re excited about planting the crop; we’re hoping we get the opportunity to get it.”
Each day that goes by usually means a reduced yield — though amounts can vary.
Peter Thomison, agronomist with The Ohio State University, said losses tend to be about a bushel a day per acre in early May, and closer to two bushels per day toward the end of May.
The biggest factor will be the remainder of the growing season and whether the state gets enough rain later in the year, as plants mature.
“There’s potential, if we get moderate temperatures (and) adequate rainfall, to still have a decent crop planted in late May or the first week of June,” Thomison said.
On the upside, grain prices have been mostly good the past four years and could be even more favorable for those fortunate enough to get their crops out, said Barry Ward, OSU ag economist.
But the downside is how it affects livestock producers and everyone else who depends on Ohio agriculture.
“The one thing that’s hard to value is what’s the impact going to be to agribusiness and local communities, with less gross dollars to spend these farmers may not be buying as much machinery, they may be sending back seed chemicals,” Ward said.
Click here to see what commodity groups had to say about risk management.