SALEM, Ohio – Scioto County’s Jim Rapp calls himself a true river rat farmer.
But in his 59 years, he’d never seen pooled water on the home farm in September.
This year’s floods from hurricanes changed that, when water from the Ohio and Scioto rivers spilled onto fields owned by him and his neighbors.
He estimates some of his corn and soybean fields stood under as much as 22 feet of floodwater, forcing losses of 300 acres of beans. He figures he and his son, Jimmy, can salvage 100 acres of corn in riverbottom fields.
The Rapps aren’t alone in their losses. Scioto Farm Service Agency program technician Pat Harper estimates more than 6,000 acres of crops were destroyed.
Rotting away. Now, to make matters worse, those soybeans are rotting in the fields and creating a ruckus.
Portsmouth locals are calling the Environmental Protection Agency, Rapp says, to report the problem: a terrible odor.
“They just didn’t know what it is,” Rapp said of the stench. “It’s awful.”
Harper agrees, describing the stench as “a combination of wet dog mixed with pig sty.”
Wait to see. But there’s nothing that can be done as farmers look back on what they figured could have been a record crop, Rapp says.
Some of his neighbors lost 100 percent of their crops.
“We had a real wonderful growing season, blessed with rain. Me and my neighbors were talking about the best crops we ever grew,” he said. “And now look at it.”
Rapp said he and his son, who don’t have crop insurance, can financially handle their losses.
“But I’d sure hate to see it two years in a row,” he admitted.
A corn harvest. They’re still hoping to get into the fields to harvest corn, but aren’t looking forward to cleaning up river drift – logs, basketballs, portable toilets and other debris – washed downriver and thrown into the furrows.
Rapp says the water was above the ears in the field, and was deeper in some places. The corn stood, but now kernels are sprouting on the ears.
“Once it dries down, me and the neighbors will see if we might be able to salvage some of it. But then the question is, will elevators buy it?
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a total loss,” he says.
Widespread. Rapp and his neighbors are only a small percentage of farmers in Ohio and western Pennsylvania who have sustained crop damage in the recent floods.
Some farmers even had livestock killed by floodwaters.
Corn crop. On the corn side, Ohio State crop specialist Peter Thomison says the floods’ impacts will depend on kernel development, how long and how much of the plants were under water, and how fields have been able to drain since.
Since late season flooding is an uncommon event, little information is available on its effect on corn at this stage of kernel development, and how to best salvage damaged corn, Thomison said.
Make silage. Ohio State animal scientist Bill Weiss says a good way to salvage the crop is to make silage.
Still, farmers must take steps to be sure their silage won’t harm the herd.
Make sure the corn is at the correct moisture concentration before chopping, Weiss says.
For upright silos and silo bags, moisture contents between 62-68 percent are ideal. For bunker silos, recommended moisture concentrations are 65-70 percent.
If the flooding did not kill the plants, wait to harvest until the correct moisture concentrations are obtained. If you wait for correct moisture on plants that were drowned, you’ll be dealing with molds, Weiss says.
Because of the risk for mycotoxins, areas of fields that are visibly moldy should probably not be chopped for silage.
Nutrition. Because of contamination by soil bacteria, Weiss recommends a proven silage inoculant (lactic acid producing bacteria) be applied at the time of chopping or silo filling.
Soil contamination of plants will increase the ash content of the silage. Ash provides no energy and will dilute organic nutrients.
In addition to routine nutrient analysis, silage made from fields that were flooded should also be analyzed for ash concentration (most commercial feed labs can conduct this analysis).
When formulating diets, the energy concentration of the corn silage should be adjusted to account for ash dilution. Normal corn silage has 4-5 percent ash.
Harvest. Prolonged flooding may cause significant injury to the roots, if not premature root death, Thomison says.
Such plants will be more vulnerable to stalk rots, increasing the likelihood of stalk lodging, especially if harvesting is delayed, he says.
Thomison recommends inspecting stalks to see how much the crop has rotted, and harvesting those fields affected most first to minimize further losses.
In addition, Thomison recommends allowing rains to wash off as much soil as possible before harvesting.
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