Surge of storms saturates Ohio fields

SALEM, Ohio – It’s a sad day when Ward Showalter has to use a rowboat to get across his corn field, but that’s just what he did the morning of May 22.

“I knew it really rained but I didn’t realize how much until I saw it,” he said.

Showalter woke up Saturday morning on his Columbiana County dairy farm to find more than 150 acres under water. About 60 acres of it was already planted.

That was just the beginning. Rain and high wind continued to batter much of Ohio through the weekend.

“Everything is absolutely saturated (in Medina County),” said extension agent Mike Miller. “Driveways are washed away. Mud is everywhere. Giant puddles cover fields.”

Miller said many of the farmers in his county are in “serious trouble.” It was too wet to plant earlier this month, and with the most recent weather woes, farmers won’t be out in the fields for awhile.

“We won’t get anything done this week. So that puts us into June, and by then we’re losing yield,” he said.

Lightning strikes. But the wave of storms wasn’t just about wind and rain and power outages. There was also lightning.

At about 5:30 p.m. May 21, Bob and Lynette Mealey sat inside their Muskingum County home waiting for the storm to pass.

“The storm was over. It was silent. And then the lightning just came cracking,” Lynette Mealey said.

Nine of their Angus brood cattle and one calf were standing on the hill exactly where the lightning struck.

They were standing between a locust and a sycamore tree, and the lightning missed the trees and hit the cattle, Mealey said.

In addition to not having insurance on the cattle, the Mealeys are faced with raising the calves.

“We tried bottle feeding but it’s not working. Now we’re giving them grain and lots of molasses and good alfalfa. They’re still hollering this morning,” she said.

Warnings. Although the Mealeys have the only reported cattle fatalities, other storm stories are the same throughout much of Ohio: saturated soil, rushing water depositing silt over newly planted crops, and flooded fields.

As of press time, flood warnings continue in some areas, according to the National Weather Service.

Although many rivers were near or above the flood stage, they’ve started to recede as of press time.

The soil was already soaked and additional heavy rain caused flooding and runoff, according to the National Weather Service.

Ohio wasn’t alone. According to The Weather Channel, “some of the worse weather in years” came across the Midwest over the weekend, including tornadoes, hail, thunderstorms and high winds.

Seeing corn. Medina County farmer Frank Ehrman has to go south to Wayne County to see corn in the ground.

It’s the first time in 50 years Ehrman doesn’t have any field work done in May.

“I’ve never been this late,” he said.

After getting 7 inches of rain, Ehrman is changing his corn variety to short season – that is, if he ever gets to plant.

As soon as the weather breaks, he has to decide whether to work on haylage or crops.

“I don’t know what to do first,” he said. But it’s going to take a lot of sun, warm temperatures and wind to dry out these fields, he said.

As of press time Monday, Ehrman still had standing water in his 500 acres of crop ground.

Wait and see. Extension agent Steve Hudkins passed lots of flooded fields and wet ground as he drove to work in Trumbull County.

“It’s just the same as everywhere else,” he reported. “We’re wet.”

Approximately 35 percent of the soybeans in the county were planted, in addition to much of the corn, he said.

“It remains to be seen whether we’ll have to replant,” he said. “It depends on the weather over the next few days.”

“Wait and see” is a common theme for farmers now.

But Ohio State University agronomist Peter Thomison lets farmers know what to expect.

Last May when the rain brought planting to a halt, temperatures were in farmers’ favor. But this may not be the case this year.

Last spring, corn plants still below the soil’s surface shut down because of the cooler soil temperatures. But this year, with the warmer temperatures, the young plants are using the soil’s oxygen faster.

When the soil temperature is above 77 degrees, a plant sitting in saturated or flooded fields can die within 24-48 hours, Thomison said.

Even if flooding doesn’t immediately kill the plants, there maybe other effects, he said. Root systems may not fully develop, and then during a dry summer, they may not be able to access subsoil water.

Should you replant? Replanting is an option many farmers are discussing, but normally Ohio State’s Thomison doesn’t recommend planting after the first week of June.

Late-planted corn gets established and then struggles during the drier part of the summer, he said.

Think about replanting carefully, he continued. Make sure it will cover the cost of the replanting and be worth the additional effort.

After June 5 or 6, farmers should start thinking about switching to beans, he said.

It seems like parts of northeast Ohio are in a rut, Thomison said.

For the last three or four years, he was unable to plant at the corn performance trial location in Mahoning County.

It’s still not planted this year, and it seems like every year there’s a reason why it isn’t planted on time, he said.

“Unfortunately, it’s reflective of problems for other farmers in the area,” Thomison said.

In Ohio, 85 percent of the corn has been planted as of May 23, compared to 87 percent last year. Seventy-seven percent of corn has emerged, according to the USDA’s Ohio Agricultural Statistics Service.

Statewide, soybean producers have 57 percent of their crop planted.

(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)

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