Ohio Farmer

Young Ohio farmers tackle wet, warm planting season

Field Snapshot: Crohn’s disease diagnosis complicates life for family of five.

Jennifer Kiel, Editor, Michigan Farmer and Ohio Farmer

June 11, 2024

6 Min Read
 Lee Havens, Andrew and Martha Winters
OHIO’S SANDUSKY COUNTY: Young farmers Andrew and Martha Winters farm with Martha’s grandfather, Lee Havens, near Fremont, Ohio. They share how the 2024 planting season went and what’s ahead. Andrew Winters

Editor’s note: While USDA Crop Progress reports can provide insight into what’s going on in a certain state, having boots on the ground is the best way to hear and see what’s really happening on farms. This year, we’re continuing an ongoing series called Field Snapshot to provide growers a view of what’s happening on farms throughout the region. Today, we hear from a crop farming couple from Ohio.

It was a wet and warm spring for Martha and Andrew Winters, who farm 2 miles west of Fremont in Ohio’s Sandusky County. It wasn’t ideal, and it pushed planting to the beginning of June.

On a few acres of corn ground, they were unable to terminate a cereal rye cover crop when they would have liked and were forced to plant soybeans into massive cereal rye.

For 2024, they are experimenting with a soybean sulfur application, have decided to take the coulters off the planter for next year, bought a new combine, are penciling out return on investment with drone fungicide applications on corn, and are concerned about grain prices. They’re doing it all while balancing time with their three young children, a recently resigned babysitter and coping with Andrew’s recent Crohn’s disease diagnosis.

On 965 acres ranging from heavy ground to sand, the eighth-generation farmers are working with Martha’s 87-year-old grandfather, Lee Havens, who has continued what his family started in 1831.

They split the cropland between corn and soybeans. They started corn on April 27 and finished on May 25, while soybeans were started May 15 — a month later than last year — and were completed June 4.

With their Kinze planter, they switched back and forth between corn and soybeans often, allowing them to get into fields as they were fit.

Corn maturity ranges from 100-107 days. “We do that because we plant a lot of cover crops and do not have our own drying; everything we harvest we have to pay to dry,” Martha says.

“It was wet, and we didn’t feel good about planting, but because it was so warm, everything came up quick and the stands look really good,” she adds.

Minor setbacks

There were no major breakdowns. Instead, there were a lot of little issues. “Every type of wheel on the planter, at least one of the bearings went bad,” Martha says. “There was one day we only got 30 acres planted because we had to stop and fix stuff.”

The field with large, flowering rye required stops to blow the radiator out. They like to terminate rye when it’s about knee-high for corn, but allow it to grow for soybeans. “One day in April allowed us to spray our heavy corn ground, but not all of it,” Martha says. “We picked up our trash wheels because they were plugging up.”

Courtesy of the Winters Family - A planter in a corn in a cereal rye field

In late May, a couple of rains missed the farm and the wind picked up. “We were thinking we might not get our corn in the heavy ground, so it was a real blessing,” Martha says.

High moisture has enabled crops to spring up. “Weeds and soybeans are coming up nice; you can see where we missed with the sprayer,” Andrew adds.

Sulfur trial in soybeans

They don’t normally apply sulfur as Martha says the soil provides most of what is needed. “But we’re finding that sandy soil needs a little more,” she says.

Looking to bump their soybeans yields, Andrew has been following the research of Shaun Casteel from Purdue University, who has been working in cover crops and high-residue systems with low organic soils. “Research points that sulfur can be an added benefit, so we are doing trials,” he says.

In previous years, they tried sulfur, 20 pounds per acre, with corn and saw a yield bump.

Consistent downforce

Next year, the Winters are taking their no-till coulters off the planter. “With our soils, we’re hoping for more consistent downforce and depth control,” says Andrew, noting it causes problems with cover crops.

They’re hoping to get enough downforce to cut through with a standard double disk. “We’re not pioneers in no-till, but we’re following right behind the leaders,” Martha adds.

Drone trial

With fungus pressure, including tar spot last year, the Winters hired a drone operator to spray a test plot. “It was at the late end, brown silt, which we would like to do earlier this year,” Martha says.

It was pretty much a break even on ROI after they paid for the drone, chemical and additional drying.

“The big question is, does a yield benefit actually pay for higher-moisture corn we have to pay to dry?” Andrew says. “We’re not just looking at the yield. We can’t afford it with $5 corn.”

Courtesy of the Winters Family - Herbicide being sprayed on a strip till with dead cereal rye

Beyond weather, grain prices are the biggest wild card for the couple. It does help that last year’s soybean crop was “phenomenal,” Martha says. “On our poor ground that normally we’d be happy with 55 bushels per acre, we got 79 bushels. The sandier soils yielded 60 bpa, which was a little disappointing, but yet we really can’t complain about 60 around here.”

Corn yields were above average and in the top three all-time. “This last week in May really gave us some hope for this year,” Andrew says.

Crohn’s disease diagnosis

Life is busy for Andrew, 31, and Martha, 32, with their three children, Lee, 6, Emi, 4, Robby, 2, who love to help, Martha says.

“Robby is so alive and not afraid of anything — he can’t wait to be driving a tractor. Lee gets bored with tractors, and Emi is happy to just ride along,” she explains.

If they didn’t have enough happening, Andrew was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease on May 23, right in the middle of their biggest week of planting. “It’s a chronic condition that will change our lives quite a bit,” he says. “It’s not curable, but treatable. However, that drug is about $84,000 a year.”

They belong to a health-sharing group called Samaritan Ministries, but it doesn’t cover chronic disease. They’re hoping to qualify for some assistance, restructure the farm business and eventually get on some kind of insurance.

“I know other farmers are dealing with health challenges, too,” Andrew says. “We trust the Lord will take care of us.”

About the Author(s)

Jennifer Kiel

Editor, Michigan Farmer and Ohio Farmer

While Jennifer is not a farmer and did not grow up on a farm, "I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone with more appreciation for the people who grow our food and fiber, live the lifestyles and practice the morals that bind many farm families," she says.

Before taking over as editor of Michigan Farmer in 2003, she served three years as the manager of communications and development for the American Farmland Trust Central Great Lakes Regional Office in Michigan and as director of communications with Michigan Agri-Business Association. Previously, she was the communications manager at Michigan Farm Bureau's state headquarters. She also lists 10 years of experience at six different daily and weekly Michigan newspapers on her impressive resume.

Jennifer lives in St. Johns with her two daughters, Elizabeth, 19, and Emily 16.

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