SALEM, Ohio — If you’re wondering when the wet weather will finally let up, you’re not alone.
Crop farmers across the Midwest are anxious to head to the fields in anticipation of one of the best commodity markets ever. But nature seems to have other plans, at least recently.
“We’re just always about one day away from what we want to do, and then it rains,” said Tom Pugh, a certified crop adviser from Agland Co-op in Beloit, Ohio.
He said none of the farmers in his region appeared to have any corn in the ground as of Monday, April 18. And they’re not alone.
Nationally, the estimate for planted corn acreage is only 7 percent, for the week ending April 17, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Ohio and Pa. farmers haven’t gotten any corn in the ground, compared to 5 and 6 percent, respectively, at this time last year.
Crop experts with Purdue University Extension say the biggest two words so far are “be patient.”
A farmer’s biggest concern now should be to limit soil compaction from rushing into muddy fields, they say.
“Do not rush soil preparation and planting where rooting ability will be impaired,” said Purdue Agronomy Specialist Tony Vyn. “Be kind to your soil this year. It is your livelihood.”
Vyn says the culprit behind the wetness is La Nina, the weather system whose cool Pacific Ocean air continues to stir up storms across the northern states. Because many soils were saturated during the winter, continued storms from La Nina will increase the chances of flooding this spring.
Although La Nina is expected to weaken later in the spring, cool and wet conditions in northern states could extend into early summer because of lingering wet soils.
The biggest grain crop in the ground right now is wheat. According to NASS, 15 percent of Ohio wheat was jointed, which was 8 percent behind last year.
While the wheat crop is behind a few days to a couple weeks, farmers who were able to apply nitrogen this spring are seeing a difference.
“It looks good, but it may be a little bit behind because we’ve been cool and wet so far this year,” said Randy Campbell, of Campbell Brothers farm of Homeworth, Ohio.
He’s one of many farmers who say they will increase the amount of wheat acreage that gets treated with fungicide. The chemical plays a major role in preventing head scab, and with wheat prices being high, he thinks the additional cost will easily pay for itself.
“I definitely think there’s a payback when the wheat’s that high of a price,” he said.
Pugh expects the acreage where he applies fungicide to double this year, for the same reason. Last year, when farmers struggled with head scab and vomitoxin, those who had invested in fungicide generally had fewer to no problems.
He estimates fungicide can increase yield by about 10 bushels per acre.
“But the big thing is the quality of the grain,” he said, because farmers who apply fungicide generally have better grain taste weights, and fewer deductions at the mill.
“With the commodity price being up, we can certainly justify spending additional dollars,” said John Hoffman, a wheat grower from Circleville, Ohio.
And with a wet spring, it follows that fungicide should be used, he said. He estimates his own wheat to be 15 or more inches tall, making it some of the tallest in Ohio.
“The wheat that has had the nitrogen fertilizer put on is looking real strong right now,” he said.
Different year, different plans
Farmers last year generally got an early start and an early harvest. But decisions should be based on the current year and season, Purdue agronomist Tony Vyn explained.
“Just because you’re delayed somewhat compared with 2010 or more normal years such as 2005 to 2008 doesn’t automatically mean you’re limiting yield potential,” he said.
Corn yields in particular depend more on weather conditions during flowering and early grain fill, he said — not so much by a specific calendar date.
While farmers are waiting, they should double-check their nitrogen fertilizer stocks, to be sure they are prepared.
Pugh said they also should get the planting equipment out of the shed, and make sure everything is ready.
“This weather is going to change,” he said, and they should do everything possible to be prepared.
(Reporter Chris Kick can be reached at 330-403-9477, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)