Throughout Ohio, the USDA Farm Service Agency counted nearly 1.5 million acres of cropland where the intended crops weren’t planted this year. The most concentrated area of prevented-planting losses was in in Wood County, where planting was prevented on 120,480 acres out of about 252,000 cropland acres in the county. While some of the losses will be covered by insurance, the damage to the area’s ag economy and farm productivity will likely extend beyond 2019.
Wet weather, volatile prices
For Brian Herringshaw, who farms with his father, Paul, near Bowling Green, the problems with wet weather started last fall. “It was a miserable fall,” he recalls. Harvest was a struggle, and they didn’t get enough dry weather afterward to do their normal strip tillage and fertilizer application.
Last spring, they were able to plant corn on only 25 of the 1,000 acres they intended to plant. In mid-June, they had a short planting window, got 200 acres of soybeans in the ground and were able to plant another 100 acres at the end of June, but they had to give up on the other 700 acres they intended to plant to soybeans.
Wheat harvest was wet as well, he adds. They had one field of wheat do fairly well with a yield of 82 bushels per acre, but their 80 acres of barley didn’t survive the winter.
Insurance and conservation rules make management decisions tricky, Herringshaw points out. For instance, cereal rye they had planted as a cover crop on some soybean ground grew to 6 feet and headed out, but they couldn’t harvest the rye and still meet requirements for claiming prevented-planting coverage. Instead, they worked it in at the beginning of August, and the rye reseeded itself. But that new rye cover doesn’t qualify for many cover crop funding programs because it wasn’t planted with an approved method.
The trade wars and volatile prices have complicated the situation as well. “I was trying to be pretty aggressive in hedging at an impressively bad time,” Herringshaw says. Once he knew he wouldn’t have grain to fill contracts this fall, he ended up buying out the contracts. “I could have bought a pretty nice pickup truck with what I spent.”
To keep moving forward, the Herringshaws have worked on installing field tile on some prevented-planting land and applied some lime this summer. “We’re trying to make the best of it, but none of that is cheap,” he says.
The Herringshaws also put out cover crops on some of their corn prevented-planting acres, but establishment was spotty. They got about half of it planted and then got another 4 inches of rain that washed out part of the new plantings. “I just don’t trust the weather at all anymore,” Herringshaw says. “I just hope it doesn’t become the norm for some reason.”
Rain, lack of rain, ‘ginormous’ weeds
The lingering effects of 2019’s weather are a concern for Josh Kieffer, too. He farms about 150 acres near Bowling Green and also works as an agronomist for Luckey Farmers. He estimates that about 60% of the acreage farmed by his customer base went unplanted this year.
On his own farm, he left 28% unplanted. He gave up on planting corn and put out soybeans on 62% of his ground, but it went in late, after June 24. The beans looked good early in the summer, but then three weeks without rain destroyed his hopes for a good yield. Kieffer also had some ground planted to wheat, but it suffered from the weather, too.
With last fall’s cold, wet weather, Kieffer wasn’t able to get any spraying done on his no-till and minimum till ground. As a result, weeds were “ginormous” by the time ground was fit to drive on this past spring.
Controlling weeds has been a season-long challenge on prevented-planting acres, Kieffer says. “At the end of the day, it’s more work. But you’ve got to keep the weeds at bay.” He started with a mixture of 2,4-D, glufosinate and glyphosate, “but that still wasn’t enough,” he says.
Next, he mowed the ground and sprayed a second time before disking and broadcasting a cover crop mix to protect his sandy soil from wind erosion. Still, he had weeds survive. Some marestail and thistles ended up going to seed before he could get them killed, which will cause increased weed pressure in years to come, he predicts.
The problem will be even worse in fields where farmers have let weeds go. Kieffer estimated that weeds on about 10% of the land in the county had not been touched at the end of August. “This is going to be a two- to three-year deal with weed pressure that we’re going to have to contend with,” he says.
Hay production down more than 50%
In addition to the corn and soybean losses, hay production is down as well. Hay producer John Russell farms about 980 acres with his family near Pemberville, with more than 500 acres in hay. They lost all hay production on more than half of their hay acres this year. They were able to make hay on some ground, but yields were less than half what they should have been.
The weather problems started last fall with excessive moisture that stressed hay plantings, Russell says. Then, in late January and early February, a polar vortex caused unusually low ground temperatures that killed most of his hay stands. He’s been in the hay business more than 35 years, and he’s seen some damage from winter weather in the past — but not such widespread losses, he explains. “We’ve never had it happen before.”
Then the wet spring complicated reestablishment of the hayfields. For instance, the Russell family planted one field three times, once in the fall 2018, once in spring this year and again six weeks later. “There’s still not enough there to bale,” Russell says.
Once they realized the hay stands were lost in the early spring, the Russell family intended to rotate some land to soybeans, but the wet weather didn’t give them much chance. They finally got a couple fields of soybeans planted June 12 during a one-day window, but even then the ground was too wet, Russell says.
Since the operation is more than half hay, they didn’t have enough eligible grain acres to get insurance coverage on all their prevented-planting acres hay, he adds. On a more positive note, some soybeans they planted on one of their terminated hayfields yielded 60.8 bushels per acre — which isn’t bad considering the terrible planting conditions, he notes.
The Russell family revised plans and planted some teff as a cover crop and for hay. They’ve also been working on leveling some uneven ground and installing subsurface drainage on some land they recently bought. They had to rearrange rotations to avoid autotoxicity in fields where hay stands were killed, so they ended up planting hay in some recently tiled fields that haven’t had time to settle.
“It’s likely to be rough,” Russell predicts. Even so, he’s hopeful those fields will have him back to making hay next year. “Hay has been very good to us, and this is one bad year, I hope,” he says.
Keck writes from Raymond, Ohio.