March 21, 2012
Local farmers were facing some grim statistics by the time the persistent rain clouds finally parted this week, making this a critical time for planting crops.
As of last week, only 9 percent of Ohio’s corn crop had emerged, compared to the 80 percent for this time last year, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Crop Progress Report.
Farmers blamed the difference on April showers pouring into May. The excess waters flooded fields past the point of possible planting and ruined seeds that had already been sown.
According to the ODA, these wet spring conditions have been the worst in more than 100 years.
The result: Ohio farmers have had less than 10 suitable days for field work since April 1, as opposed to the average 30 days.
Yet this week’s dry stretch offered a beam of hope to anxious farmers. Erica Pitchford of the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) said some farmers may toil the fields day and night to take full advantage of the weather.
“This break in the weather is nice for all of us, but it’s special for the farmers who have been kept out of the field for the last two months,” said Pitchford.
ODA advised drivers to be cautious of the additional tractors in traffic during this “hectic planting opportunity.”
The USDA reported that, among the 18 states that produce most of the county’s corn, an average of 13 percent has been planted. The four-year average for this time is 40 percent.
In Ohio, one percent was planted compared to the four-year average of 33 percent, according to the USDA.
Nevertheless, Agriculture Educator at Delaware County’s Ohio State University Extension Rob Leeds said local farmers are still optimistic.
“There’s a lot of the season left,” said Leeds. “It could turn around and be a decent season, but it won’t be the bumper crop we had last year.”
This little break really helps us a lot,” he continued. “If we missed this week and went later in June, we would have been talking about major problems.”
This year, Leeds predicted a 14 to 15 percent reduction in yield on average, with a range from 6 to 43 percent. The outcome will ultimately depend on the summer weather, which Leeds hoped would not be too dry.
Much of the current growth status has varied, depending on the type of seed sown, according to Leeds. He said some of the farmers have switched seeds in response to the atypical weather, from long-season to short-season corn, or, in a few cases, from corn to soybeans.
It will also depend on how quickly farmers can get seed in the ground, according to the OSU Extension Office, which deemed this “sink or swim” week for Ohio corn growers. Such farmers may qualify for a prevented planting crop insurance payment on Sunday.
The office predicted that growers can expect a yield loss of up to two bushels per acre for every day that planting is delayed in May and early June.
WeatherBill, a weather insurance and risk management company based in California and Illinois, stated that the potential corn yield has already been reduced by 129 million bushels at a value of $904 million in Ohio.
However, the company reported that “near record high” corn prices could still mean record profits for Midwestern farmers.
“One good thing is, we’re going to look back and say we lived through 2011,” said Leeds. “I can’t remember seeing a spring like this when we didn’t get in until this late.”
The general public is not likely to notice drastic changes due to farmers’ difficult planting season, according to Leeds.
“I think people outside of farming may see a little increase in food prices, but that will be much more dependent on oil prices than crop prices,” said Leeds.
Instead, the public has been warned to look out for wide tractors in oncoming traffic.