Rain delay: Planting screeches to a halt

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SALEM, Ohio – After standing on the accelerator the first month of planting, farmers now are pressing hard on the tractor’s brake pedal.

Recent rainfall in Ohio, Pennsylvania and other Midwest states has stalled fieldwork. Area farmers planted at breakneck speed in April and early May. Then the rains came.

‘Too easy.’ “I told my boy it went too easy. Thirteen hundred acres of crops went like nothing. It was too easy for nothing to happen, but I didn’t think it would be this soon,” said Tuscarawas County farmer Ed Guspyt.

After getting all his corn and soybeans planted in April, he’s now looking at 2 feet of standing water in some of his fields in Port Washington, Ohio.

Just weeks after he finished his fields, Guspyt is getting ready to replant.

Ashland Co. pounded. In Ashland County, extension agent Roger Amos reports the county has realized almost 8 inches of precipitation in the past 10 days.

“Standing water is our primary concern. I hate to see guys replant,” Amos said, noting some areas of the county had up to 4 inches of rain during the first rain.

In other areas, it’s not a matter of replanting – some farmers are still trying to take off haylage before they can plant corn on the same ground.

In Stark County, for example, Stark County Extension Agent Dennis Weilnau said many farmers are to the point where they need to make hay, and that’s where their real problems are.

“A lot of guys take off ryelage or hay before they plant a corn crop, and that’s not done yet,” Weilnau said.

Still positive. Other farmers aren’t jumping up and down just yet, but have their fingers crossed their crops already in the ground will pull through.

Mike Wilcox, owner of Wilclan Farm System in Carlton, Pa., in the northeastern corner of Mercer County, has a positive outlook.

There’s not too much standing water in his area, but Wilcox believes that’s because they haven’t gotten as much rain as Ohio.

In the past 10 days, a rain gauge at Wilcox’s home has gathered less than 2 inches of rain.

“I’ve seen fields with water standing, but it’s not that bad,” he said.

“We got an earlier start that usual this year, and now we’ve got a two-week break. Fifty-five percent of the nation’s crops are in, and that’s good for this time of the year.”

“If it stays real wet for two weeks, then we’ll get the yield reductions,” he said.

Wait until dry. Although OSU Extension agronomist Peter Thomison doesn’t doubt some farmers may have to replant, he said they’ll have to wait until the fields dry to get the big picture.

Stark County farmer Kevin Schmucker estimates his area has received around 3 inches of rain since May 5. He’s noticed some ponding in low-lying areas but credits weekend winds with drying some of those areas.

On his property, some bottom ground is wet but he’s hoping not to replant much.

“There’s nothing I hate worse than replanting,” he said.

“I’m not sure the water has laid long enough to do a lot of real damage. I’m not feeling too bad yet,” he said.

Temperature. Farmers had the temperature in their favor, though. With lower temperatures, corn at or below the soil’s surface could survive two to four days of flooded conditions, Ohio State’s Thomison said, but if the temperature had been closer to 80 degrees, the corn probably wouldn’t have survived 24 hours. This is because the oxygen supply in the soil is depleted.

One of Thomison’s biggest concerns is the duration of the flooding. Many of the fields were saturated for a few hours and then drained rather than remaining flooded for days.

Corn can withstand the saturation-draining cycle better than complete flooding, Thomison said.

Cooler temperatures early this week are creating another problem, according to Schmucker.

“I’m really worried about these low temperatures most. It’s cold now and the rest of the week doesn’t look much better. This week could change a lot of things.”

“What I’m worried about now is the slugs, the cutworms and all the insects under the sun,” he said.

Schmucker plans to plant 950 acres of corn and 800 acres of soybeans. With cooler temperatures, he said spraying won’t be too effective in treating any insect problems he’ll run into.

Saving grace. Perhaps a saving grace will be last summer’s weather woes.

Thomison said the end-of-season drought corrected compaction from planting when it was too wet last spring. This, coupled with the freeze and thaw of the winter, led to better water infiltration during the recent rains.

“If there’s a silver lining from last year, maybe this is it,” he said.

Farmers are hoping he’s right.

Only after the fields dry can farmers assess the damage and determine if there was stand loss, the health of the plant and see variability across acreage, Thomison said.

Stay off fields. Tony Vyn, Purdue University cropping systems specialist, urged farmers to stay off their fields when soils are too wet for tilling and planting.

Planting in wet conditions often results in soil compaction, which can restrict a plant’s root system and reduce crop yield potential. Soil is at a greater risk of compaction if dry weather persists later in the crop season.

On level fields, producers might consider skipping additional secondary tillage and planting immediately after soils dry, Vyn said.

“It would save some time when soil conditions are dry, would probably enable and enhance seed placement and probably get the crop off to a faster start.”

Once the skies clear, farmers should inspect their fields carefully before resuming planting operations. Some fields dry more quickly than others, Vyn said.

“There’s no magical number of days following the last rain event where one could say that this is the time that’s required,” he said. “It varies by soil texture, field drainage and the extent of residue cover.”

Farmers are better off waiting until soils dry to plant than pushing ahead with fieldwork to finish within the ideal planting window, Vyn said.

“The yield loss associated with planting on soils which are too wet far exceeds the potential yield loss associated with another day or two of planting delay,” he said.

In Ohio, 86 percent of the corn has been planted, as of May 11.

Even though Ohio farmers planted only another 3 percent of the corn crop during the week ending May 11, the Buckeye State is still 28 days ahead of last year and 16 days ahead of the five-year average, according to the USDA’s Ohio Agricultural Statistics Service.

Statewide, 34 percent of the corn plants have emerged.

Ohio soybean producers have 46 percent of their acres planted.

In Pennsylvania, 41 percent of the corn has been planted and 13 percent of the soybeans.

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