By Matt Reese
It was an early June wedding in central Ohio. The brother of the beautiful bride was, of course, in attendance, though his troubled mind was a couple of hours away. His was thinking about his still unplanted farm fields at home.
He had been fortunate last fall that he and his parents had been able to get the crop out of the fields in a fairly timely manner. Since then, though, the precipitation had been relentless. The window to plant will always come, his father had said. This year, though, it hadn’t. Other than a few test passes with soybeans in early April (none of which emerged) no crops had been planted. No hay had been baled. No fieldwork had been done in his northwest Ohio fields of his family’s farm. He had waited. He had hoped, prayed, prepared, planned, and re-planned. None of it had worked out. The weather had thwarted every effort.
There was still hope though. It had been a couple of days since the last rain and the sun had actually come out for a bit to dry the saturated fields. He knew he was just hours from the first chance of the year to plant, with the insurance date for planting corn just days away. The soil would not be perfect for planting, but maybe it would be just good enough. Maybe.
The young farmer dearly loved his sister and her soon-to-be husband, through he couldn’t help but steal occasional glances at the weather radar every chance he got. Things were looking good. There was still some hope. There was also a growing restlessness.
Finally, with the ceremony over and the reception in full swing, he made the decision to leave early to make the nearly two hour drive home and get a jump on what he hoped would be a very busy few days. He gave his sister a hug and firmly shook the hand of his new brother-in-law, wished them the best and headed homeward with a hopeful heart. He took one last look at the radar before he got in the truck — still looking good.
The young farmer didn’t know it, but just a few minutes into his trip that radar changed. As he made the drive home, full of fading hope for a successful 2019 planting season, 3 inches of unforecasted rain fell on his fields. Unfortunately, there was plenty of heartbreak on that early June wedding day.
Sadly, these types of stories were far too common this spring as Ohio — most notably northwest Ohio — faced the most challenging planting season in history. In mid-June, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine requested that the U.S. Department of Agriculture issue a disaster designation for Ohio to make assistance available to farmers. As of June 17, only 68% of Ohio’s corn crop and 46% of Ohio’s soybean crop had been planted, according to the USDA Crop Progress reports. Finally in the waning days of June, rain clouds gave way to sunshine and farmers throughout Ohio scrambled to plant remaining acres. The state has been left, though, with an unprecedented number of prevented planting acres and a huge array of developing root and leaf disease issues, nutrient deficiencies and uneven growth in the fields that had been planted.
“The delays in planting and effects on in-field crops of forages and wheat are historic,” said Greg LaBarge, an agronomic field specialist with Ohio State University Extension. “The agricultural community is facing many important decisions in light of the relentless precipitation that has occurred this spring. The decisions farmers make in the coming weeks will have a lasting impact, affecting management decisions for the next year.”
There are many decisions to be made in the struggling fields that have been planted. What inputs will pay this year? Is it worthwhile investing more in the late planted fields with lower yield potential? How should nutrients be managed with the huge possible losses that occurred this spring?
There are many more questions that need to be considered for unplanted fields. These include: Farm Service Agency changes and programs including EQIP and CSP, the specifics of evolving crop insurance rules, what to do with unplanted treated seed, GMO traits for use as cover crops, weed control issues, soil health issues, soil compaction mitigation, nutrient management, tillage, the best cover crops to plant, the timing/rate and mix of cover crops, availability of cover crop seed, cover crops in relation to chemicals used for weed control, manure management options, tile installation options, grazing/forage production options, and many more.
On short notice a meeting was pulled together on June 27 in Ada with a panel of experts to address these and other questions. To be honest, I have been to my fair share of farm meetings and this one certainly featured some of the best, most pertinent information in one place I have ever heard. I wrestled for a while about how to best share the information and decided that anything I write will not do the meeting justice. The entire meeting is available at ocj.com and is definitely worth the time to watch if you are dealing with a fair number of prevented planting acres. The panel of experts at the meeting and Ohio State University Extension have really stepped up in these very challenging times to tackle the many issues from this spring. There are many resources available to help with these tough farm decisions. To help select a cover crop, visit mccc.msu.edu/selector-tool/. Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) agronomists and OSU Extension educators are continuing to publish recommendations and information about weather-related issues in their C.O.R.N. Newsletter available at agcrops.osu.edu/newsletter/corn-newsletter/archives. CFAES experts are also publishing recommendations and information for livestock producers in the Ohio Beef Cattle Letter at u.osu.edu/beef and in Ohio Ag Manager at u.osu.edu/ohioagmanager. CFAES recommendations and information for dairy producers can be found within Buckeye Dairy News at dairy.osu.edu/newsletter/buckeye-dairy-news.
It is times like this that can make or break farms, and farmers. Make sure you are looking at all of the resources available to help make the best decisions for your farm, your family and your future after this heartbreaking spring for so much of the Ohio agriculture I love.