Small corn plants try to grow in standing water Thursday in a farm field in Clark County. Bill Lackey

Temperature swings, recent rains worry Ohio farmers

More than eight inches of rain since April 24 has put many Ohio farmers behind in their planting and left some scrambling to get their crops in the ground before June.

Adding cold temperatures in early May to the high rainfall has been a recipe for disaster for many corn farmers and soybean farmers are playing catchup as rain continues to fall.

Brandon Bowser, regional manager for Harvest Land Cooperative, which has 26 agronomy locations in Indiana and Ohio, said planting was off to a fast start in the second half of April, before 8.19 inches of rainfall and lower temperatures erased early optimism. He estimates about a third of his region’s corn will be replanted, and surviving seedlings are at risk of blight.

“It’s the worst corn replant in our area I’ve ever seen in 28 years,” Bowser, 47, said. “Bad conditions got worse with rain on Thursday. There are lakes in some fields.”

Clark County farmer Brian Harbage did not have to replant a large amount of corn, but said he heard other farmers who had to replant 75 percent of their crop. He added a day or two can make a big difference.

“The main thing is that you either have crops that have been washed out or the crops have a hard time getting out of the ground. The rain seals the surface and the crops can’t get out of the ground. No-till versus tillage seemed to impact the crusting over of the soil and not letting the plants grow. Also, excess moisture causes the seed to rot,” Harbage said.

Aaron Overholser is a grower in Darke County, the highest producer of corn in the state by county and second in soybean production.

“This spring we had an early window to plant. In our area, from April 11 to April 28 it was fairly dry and planting conditions were very good. We got started April 18 which is normal for us, but some were hesitant to get started that early. By April 23 to April 28 everyone had a ton of crops planted.”

The problems started to arise in late April with the amount of rainfall the farms were seeing, and the cold weather that proceeded in the first weekend of May.

“We had five and a half inches of rain and the temperature reached a low of 30. In the second weekend in May it got down to 32 one night and 20 the next,” Overholser said.

Due to the weather, Overholser had to replant about 10 percent of his corn, while the soybeans he planted remained stable even after the rain.

Ohio State University’s Extension Educator Sam Custer said early weather in April helped many farmers successfully plant but cold temperatures influenced how the plants grew.

“This cold weather stunted or killed plants that had previously emerged and made for a very cold and wet environment for the seedlings that were trying to emerge…plus the stressed plants that are up are going to be subject to diseases because of the early life of the plant being so difficult,” Custer said

In Darke County, 130,000 acres of corn and about 142,000 acres of soybeans are planted each year.

Most farmers are now planting soybeans, but recent rainfall has kept them out of the fields. Farmers may get a chance this weekend, according to WHIO meteorologist Kirstie Zontini.

“Scattered showers are predicted this weekend, with warmer weather ahead, hopefully providing some relief to farmers as they try to replant their crops,” Zontini said.

A recent survey of Southwest Ohio farmers shows 80 percent have planted all of their corn and only 50 percent have all of their soybean seeds in the grounds.

The weather remains the controlling factor on whether farmers should plant this weekend or wait it out to conserve pricey seeds.

“The biggest changes I see will be for farmers to try and equip themselves to plant their crop in 10 days or less because that seems to be the window available for suitable growing conditions most years,” Custer aid.

However, spring weather is not the ultimate driver of a good harvest. July and August, when corn and soybeans pollinate and mature, hold all the aces.

“It really isn’t so much the conditions now,” said Peter Thomison, corn expert for Ohio State University Extension. “It’s what we experience in July and August. If we have mild conditions … we could still have a decent crop.”

The Columbus Dispatch contributed to this story.

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