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Serving: OH

Weathering a rough year

Slideshow: Farm Science Review attendees share their 2019 crop stories — some bad, some not so bad.

Farmers across Ohio have experienced extraordinary weather challenges in 2019, from washed-out planting seasons to late-season droughts. To get a better picture of the crop conditions throughout the state, we asked visitors to Farm Science Review, held annually near London, Ohio, to mark their farms on a map with color-coded pins.

Many visitors to the farm show, which was Sept. 17-19 this year, rated their crop year as a “terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad year,” but most of the pins on the map were blue, indicating a rough year, but not the worst ever. There were also plenty of farmers who indicated their crops were “about normal” — and even a few who were having a good crop year.

The most remarkable aspect of the map was the differences between farms that are near one another. In Morrow County, for instance, pins indicating normal years were squeezed in between one for a terrible year and one for a good year. In some cases, farmers told us, just one missed rain made the difference in being able to get crops planted in a timely manner. Here’s a look at how the crop year is shaping up for farmers around the state:

Philip Smetzer, who farms with his son, Andrew, in Sandusky and Erie counties, reports they got everything planted, although they had to farm around a few wet spots in their soybean fields. They farm about 600 acres and chop some of their corn to feed out about 120 steers a year. The rest of their corn is harvested as grain and shipped to the nearby Poet Biorefinery.

Besides dealing with the wet spring, the Smetzers lost about two-thirds of their hay stand because of last winter’s extreme cold. They’ve also been managing around construction of the Nexxus Pipeline, which cut through their farm. Last fall, they were cut off from some crops until late in the season, and then had to hustle to harvest off wet ground when the soil surface froze enough to bear traffic. The land over the pipeline is still difficult to manage because the subsoil is hard and won’t let water infiltrate, leaving the topsoil soupy, explains Philip Smetzer.

Todd Benthien, who farms with his dad in Warren County, reports that his crops seem about normal. Spring was wet and planting was late. Then, the weather turned dry, and late summer stayed dry. Even so, the Benthiens were able to harvest enough corn to fill their silo to keep their beef herd fed this winter.

Ron Burns, who farms with his family near Milford Center in Union County, expects he’ll have spots where corn yields will top 200 bushels per acre, but he also has parts of fields that are flooded out entirely. He was able to get corn planted at the end of May. He planted soybeans the middle of June and then replanted at the end of June. Although ground was fit to plant early in the spring, he hesitated because the previous year’s storms after planting damaged his stand, he explains.

Mike Daye, who farms 260 acres near Leesburg, got all his ground planted to corn by June 3. He’s anticipating a yield of about 180 bushels per acre. “For Highland County, that’s good,” he points out.

Dawn Wallace, who farms with her family in Miami and Champaign counties, says they were able to get their crops planted, although they planted late. Then, the wet weather made it impossible to get back into a few fields to spray. “We’ve got weeds we’ve never seen before,” she says, adding that in those fields, weeds are likely to cause problems at harvest. “We’re concerned about the debris we’re going to have at delivery.”

Eric Paulowski, a vegetable grower from Warren County, says he likes to wait until after a killing frost to plant garlic in the fall to avoid getting too much growth going into winter. Last fall, however, weather was so wet in November he was only able to plant about a third of his normal crop. The wet weather also caused problems with disease in the garlic.

In the spring, the weather caused problems with timing of vegetable crops. He needs to start several weeks ahead of field planting to propagate vegetable plants. Once seedlings are established, they go into high tunnels, before being hardened off outside in preparation for field planting. This year, by the time the fields were fit to plant, cover crops were overgrown and vegetable plants were overmature. Plants got backed up in the high tunnels, and he had to restart a lot of plants. By late summer, his crops were looking better, though. He continues to plant throughout the season, he explains. “We caught the July cycle right.”

Rod Ullom of Shreve in Wayne County, farms about 400 acres with his son, Jason, 31. They raise corn, pumpkins, hay and about 80 head of beef mother cows. “Last year it rained too much, crops drowned out and we couldn’t get hay made,” Rod Ullom says. “This year is a repeat — only worse.”

Some corn was planted in May, he says, but it drowned out. In June, they were able to get the first planting of pumpkins on a field tiled this spring. A month later, they got the rest of it planted. “We really didn’t have much in prevented-plant; we got something on, whether it made anything or not,” he says.

On acres where corn was drowned out or not planted, the Ulloms planted sorghum-sudangrass where they could. On hilly hay ground that was underwater, they planted no-till corn. “Even some of that rotted out,” he says.

Into August, the Ulloms were still trying to make the first cutting of hay. “I pulled into a field to mow, and immediately sunk — I abandoned that field,” Rod says. Most of the corn will be chopped into silage, but he is still concerned about tight forage supplies.

Jim Baier of Huntsville in Logan County, farms about 2,500 acres and says about two-thirds of his corn and a third of his soybeans did not get planted. He doesn’t expect the 250 acres of beans he replanted in mid-June to amount to much. “There were a few guys around me that got zero acres planted,” he says. “It’s by far the worst I’ve seen it. And it’s really messed up my rotation, with beans on bean ground.”

Baier, a former schoolteacher, says as bad as the year was, “it was not as bad as teaching school.”

Keck writes from Raymond, Ohio. Jennifer Kiel contributed to this article.

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