Deja vu in the fields


WOOSTER, Ohio — Farmers across Ohio and western Pennsylvania struggled to get their crops planted through one of the wettest spring seasons on record. Now, they’re facing many of the same challenges as they attempt to harvest those crops.

Most were unable to finish planting until the first week of June, doing the bulk of their planting in a couple days and nights.

“The way it’s looking, we’re going to have to take it off just as fast,” said Dave Plank, plant manager at Town and Country Co-op in West Salem.

Plank also does custom harvesting and said it’s way behind. Traffic at the grain mill is down too, he said.

“This business is very sun-driven,” he said. “If it’s shining, we’re busy; if not, we’re dead.”

The latest report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service shows only 2.6 days were suitable for field work last week in Ohio, and three in Pa.

As of Oct. 23, Ohio growers had harvested only 14 percent of their corn for grain and 42 percent of soybeans, compared to 75 and 88 percent, respectively, at this time last year. Corn for silage is also still in the fields, with 12 percent left to chop.

Pennsylvania farmers have harvested 31 percent of corn, and 95 percent of corn silage.

All-around wet

Bret Davis, a soybean grower from Delaware County, figures he got about 3 inches of rain last week, “and it was wet before that,” he said.

He has about 45 percent of his beans harvested, and only about 10 percent of corn. So far, he’s noticed very little damage to the grain, but expects “it’s going to be a long fall” before everything is done.

Just like planting season, farmers across the region say they need a few dry days to even cross the fields. They’re being forced to harvest portions of fields and jump from one farm to another, to stay on the high ground.

Myron Wehr, who farms in eastern Ohio and in western Pa., said the crops are mature and look good, but it doesn’t matter unless farmers can get them harvested.

“It’s not a good situation,” he said. “We’ve got decent crops in this area but we’ve got to get them harvested and in the bin.”

Wheat crop

While the main focus is on the harvest, farmers also are behind on planting winter wheat. The NASS report shows only a little more than half, or 55 percent, of Ohio wheat has been planted, compared to 89 percent the previous year. In Pa., only 53 percent is planted, compared to 79 percent in 2010.

Wehr said it looks like only half the wheat in his area is planted, and he’s doubtful much more will get planted.

According to Ohio State University’s C.O.R.N. newsletter, Hessian fly-safe dates for Ohio ranged from Sept. 22 to Oct. 5. While those have long passed, the publication warns against planting too late, as well.

Wheat planted after Oct. 20 in northern Ohio can reduce the number of primary tillers that develop in the fall and increases the risk of cold temperature injury.

If planting is delayed by more than three weeks after the fly-free date, the seeding rate should be increased to 24-26 seeds per foot of row, which is 1.75 million seeds per acre) to compensate for fewer tillers developing in late-planted wheat.

Other issues

Soil compaction and deep ruts are on the minds of everyone, as well as grain quality and mold.

“We’ll probably do some damage to these fields that may need some tillage afterward, but all you can do is keep going forward,” said Tom Pugh, a certified crop adviser with Agland Co-op, in Beloit, Ohio.

He’s also seeing more signs of tip rot and diseases with corn, although the beans still look healthy, he said.

There’s still hope for a mild November with a warm and dry Indian summer. Beyond that, things get risky.

“The later you wait, you’re going to have more issues,” Pugh said.

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