SALEM, Ohio — The precipitation maps for Ohio and Pennsylvania over the month of June look a little like a patchwork quilt — with some counties getting very little rain, and some experiencing flooding and ponding.
The most recent major rain event, ending with the week of June 27, saw a range of about one-tenth of an inch, to more than 5 inches, according to data provided by Jim Noel, a hydrologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Noel called it a situation of “have and have nots” in the latest edition of Ohio State’s C.O.R.N Newsletter, and said dry conditions are likely to persist through the first week of July — with heavier rains coming from scattered showers.
That same range can be seen across Ohio and Pennsylvania’s field crops, which range from good to excellent where there’s been adequate moisture, and poor quality where there’s been drought and flooding.
So far, most Ohio farmers appear to be having a better wheat harvest than last year, when rains forced a late harvest and damaged the crop — causing some wheat to sprout and resulting in steep docking fees at the mill.
From the field
In Morrow County, Robert Barker and his family started the wheat harvest the last week of June. He estimates they get to start harvesting wheat in June about one in five years, and so far, is happy with the yield and quality.
He estimated the yield at 90-100 bushels per acre, but said other years, it can be as low as 50-60.
“Wheat is so dependant on the weather,” he said. “From fall until the next summer.”
Jeff Sayers, who farms in the same area as Barker, was harvesting some of his first wheat June 30. The moisture has been about 18-21 percent, a little higher than he’d like, but he remembers last year, when some wheat was ruined and laid against the ground.
”Last year, we were fighting rain after rain,” he said. “We were fighting sprout in the heads and everything else. This year we haven’t had that yet, and hopefully we don’t.”
Jeff and his father, Ed, farm about 900 acres, with 60 acres of wheat. He said they usually grow more wheat, but with all of last year’s troubles, they cut back. This year’s crop looks reassuring, and he figured early yield at 80 bushels or better.
Those yields are in line with findings from OSU wheat experts Pierce Paul and Laura Lindsey, who report that test weight per bushel is in the upper 50-pound range.
Both researchers observed low levels of head scab and other diseases, and said that low disease severity typically means “very good grain yield and quality.”
The early harvest will undoubtedly have some farmers considering planting a second crop — referred to as double-cropping. Sayers said he’s leaning more toward planting a cover crop instead, and Barker said they’ll probably plant whatever soybean seed they have left over, but nothing more.
Double cropping can be a beneficial, but risky venture — depending on the second half of the growing season, and conditions in the fall. It is more common in southern Ohio counties, but not unusual further north.
Meanwhile, as farmers focus on harvesting wheat and baling straw, corn and soybeans are progressing — albeit in the same patchwork pattern.
The Ohio corn crop generally saw a dry start to June, which some growers said was good, because it helped force the plants to develop deeper, wider roots in search of moisture. And when the moisture came, at the end of the month, it did so with vengeance — and deadly floods in West Virginia.
Peter Thomison, OSU field crop specialist, said in the CORN Newsletter, that some Ohio fields were flooded, with localized ponding that resulted in partial or complete immersion of corn plants.
Thomison said the muddy residue left on the plants will likely reduce photosynthesis, but because most corn is far enough along, it should be able to sustain the damage. If the flooding only lasted a few hours, and temperatures were warm, he expects damage will be minimal.
Recent rainfall has also helped the soybean crop, which, in some fields, had not received rain since it was planted.
Amanda Price, a grain merchandiser with Town & Country Co-op, said soybeans have probably been the biggest concern, since they were planted later and are in need of moisture.
Town & Country operates mills in Wayne, Ashland and Medina counties, and she said farmers are still in the early stages of wheat harvest, with good quality so far.
Moisture has ranged from 14-24 percent, with a lot in the midteens. Test weights have been lower than expected, but Price said that will likely improve as the harvest continues.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how dry some of the areas have been,” she said.
Rob Hodge, general manager of Ag Central, a grain mill in Mount Jackson, Pennsylvania, said farmers there are in the beginning stages of wheat harvest, but would continue through the July 4 weekend if weather permits. He said moisture has been in the upper teens.
In general, he’s been encouraging people “to get their wheat off as soon as they can,” before heavy rains come and cause moisture damage.
He said the corn and soybeans in western Pennsylvania could use rain — having missed two of the major rain events that were forecasted earlier in June. One of those rains hit the Salem-area, he said, but drifted toward Pittsburgh and missed his part of the state.
Overall, farmers across the nation planted the lowest number of acres to wheat this past year since the 1970s, at just under 51 million acres, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Acreage Report, released June 30.
But good growing and harvest conditions have the nation’s wheat crop on track to make up for the lower acreage, with a national yield average of 48.6 bushels per acre, an 8 percent increase over the five-year average.
The report also estimates U.S. soybean planted area at a record high 83.7 million acres, up 1 percent from last year. Growers expect to harvest 83 million acres of soybeans nationally this year, which, if realized, will be a new record high.
U.S. corn growers also benefited from excellent field conditions this spring, increasing their acreage from last year by 7 percent, to 94.1 million acres, making it the third highest corn planted acreage since 1944. Corn growers expect to harvest 86.6 million acres for grain, which would be the third highest acreage harvested for grain since 1933.