August 20, 2014

Elyria
Mostly cloudy
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test

Soaked spring puts most farmers way behind on planting

In the midst of what’s been one damp, waterlogged, lousy spring for those who plant, cultivate and harvest the foods we eat, Fenik’s Sweet Corn on Lake Avenue in Elyria has been an early planting season exception to the rule.

“Things are not that bleak for us,” Pat Fenik said. “We’ve got four-inch corn right now. We’ve also got potatoes, onions and tomatoes in.”

Pat Fenik of Fenik’s Sweet Corn Stand, in a field of sweet corn plants on Lake Avenue in Elyria Township on Saturday. (CT photo by Steve Manheim.)

Pat Fenik of Fenik’s Sweet Corn Stand, in a field of sweet corn plants on Lake Avenue in Elyria Township on Saturday. (CT photo by Steve Manheim.)

Fenik credits good drainage, sandy soil and tiled fields with the initial successes.

But the situation facing Ron Pickworth, president of the Lorain County Farm Bureau and former head of the Lorain County Fair Board, is a lot more typical of area farmers this year. “Given the continual rain and cool temperatures, it hasn’t been that conducive for plant growth.”

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Corn and soybeans, which are major crops in Lorain County, have made their way into the soil in some spots where the soil has a sandier composition and tends to dry quicker so the ground can be tilled in preparation for planting.

“Crop production begins to drop by 1 to 2 percent a day if crops aren’t in the ground by the middle of the month,” Pickworth said. “We’re mostly talking about corn right now. Soybeans can go a little later.”

Pickworth hasn’t been able to get a tractor into his soggy, muddy farm fields to start turning over soil and getting the ground ready for planting.

“Everyone is behind,” said a weekly crop report prepared by Tim Malinich of the Lorain County Ohio State University Extension Office. “What we need is a few good drying days. Vegetable producers are having a difficult time working the ground up and getting the soil dry to be good for planting.”

Although some farmers are pushing, they haven’t passed any deadlines for planting crops, according to Malinich, who has a small farm in Ashland County.

“According to the latest figures, only 2 percent of the corn is in the ground in Ohio,” said Amanda Dennis, director of the Lorain County Farm Bureau.

The consensus of those who spoke with The Chronicle-Telegram about the wet spring was that with each day that passes without corn and other crops getting planted, yields decrease by 1 to 2 percent.

“In general, yields begin to drop once we get past May 15,” said Jeff Miller, a Valley City-based farmer.

Miller harvests crops in a four-county area, including some 3,000 acres in Lorain County, most of it in the LaGrange-Grafton area.

With forecasts calling for more rain over the weekend and heading into the week, “we’ll be back to square one,” Miller said. “We’re not even close to being ready (to plant) around here.”

About the only spots across northern Ohio where farmers have been able to get much in the ground are in areas Miller described as pockets of land in Wayne County and some around Bellevue to the west. “It’s been so hit and miss.”

Miller was set to begin planting a couple hundred acres of corn in Ashland County this week, but those plans were washed out by rain. “We’ve got the equipment ready to go but there’s no place to go.”

Many farmers carry federal insurance that pays them in instances where weather or other difficulties make it impossible to get crops planted. The cut-off date for planting corn is June 5, according to Miller, who has been farming for 35 years. “If we hit June 5 (with no corn planted), we get paid a percentage of what we would have grossed off acres planted. It’s a good safety net for a year like this.”

Long-range forecasts are generally not calling for an extremely hot summer, Miller said. While that’s good news for many, farmers are always pondering the impact of seasonal forecasts.

“That may even out the moisture along the way, but after seeing a real wet spring, a real dry period could be the worst thing. Who knows what will happen. It’s anybody’s guess.”

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.