COLUMBUS, Ohio — Heavy rain saturated swaths of farmland across the state in recent weeks, compelling significant numbers of farmers to reorder seeds or take measures to help their newly planted corn or soybeans prosper.
Even many farmers who didn’t watch their seeds wash away in rivers of rain are still forced to consider: Should I replant?
Warm, dry weather in early April encouraged some farmers to plant early, but then the rain struck and stayed. And frost on May 7 and May 8 in many parts of the state only added to the problem.
Farm fields in the west-central counties near the Indiana border were drenched, the hardest-hit area in the state. In that region, which includes Darke, Auglaize, Mercer, Shelby and Miami counties, the amount of rain was three times more than usual, said Aaron Wilson, climate specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
Between May 5 and May 6, rain totaled three to four inches in that region. Since the beginning of May, five to six inches have fallen there — about an inch higher than the typical total rainfall for that area for the entire month of May, Wilson said.
“It was like every field had a river running through it,” said Sam Custer, describing field conditions on May 5 in Darke County. “Everywhere was full of water.”
With the water, some newly planted seeds washed away, as did soil and nutrients, leaving farmers fretting, said Custer, an OSU Extension educator in the county.
Darke County has the highest number of corn and soybean acres in the state, and by April 28, nearly all the corn and almost half the soybean acres in the county had been planted, Custer said.
Be patient, he tells farmers.
“If we can get the crops replanted that need to be and just watch the crops come out of this wet and cold, the farmers will be alright, and they’ll see the possibility of a very good crop,” Custer said.
Cold Temperatures Compound the Problem
Cooler than normal temperatures and frost may have also slowed or stopped some wheat plants’ growth, particularly in areas where wheat is at the flowering stage, said Laura Lindsey, an OSU Extension soybean and small grains specialist. At that stage, the wheat is most vulnerable to below-freezing temperatures.
Colder weather can shut down a plant’s metabolism. Combine that with the rain, and plants become more susceptible to fungus and disease.
Weather challenges have come at a bad time for farmers statewide.
Across Ohio, as of May 7, 46 percent of corn was planted, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That compares to 30 percent that had been planted by the same time last year and 38 percent, the five-year average for that time period.
Soybean planting is ahead of last year’s planting. Sixteen percent of soybeans had been planted as of May 7, the agency said. That compares to 8 percent that had been planted by the same time last year and 14 percent, the five-year average for that period.
“Growers are concerned that there may be need for significant replanting of corn fields due to the cold and wet conditions,” Cheryl Turner, Ohio state statistician with the agency, said in a written statement.
The Rain Isn’t Over
More rain is on the way in the west-central region of the state, an expected one-half inch to one and one-half inches before the end of the week, Wilson said. But then there’s a reprieve: After this week, the forecast is for warmer, dryer weather.
“It is not that unusual to see heavy rainfall during the spring,” he said. “But, certainly the timing of this deluge is unfortunate, and the impacts may not be fully understood until the end of the growing season.”
Soil flooded more than 48 hours becomes depleted of oxygen. And without oxygen, a plant cannot take up nutrients from the soil or extend its roots.
“You may not have flooding on your field, but if you have saturated soils, it can be just as bad as having flooding,” said Peter Thomison, an OSU Extension agronomist.
Had the weather been above 77 degrees, the flooding would have had an even harsher effect, killing off plants in about 24 hours. So the cooler than normal weather has prolonged the survival of some flooded plants, Thomison said.
Once the growing point of the corn plant extends over the water level, the chance of the plant’s survival is significantly higher.
Still, plants that survive flooding are more likely to have roots that don’t develop fully, leaving the plants subject to more injury during a dry summer when long roots are needed to access the water lower down in the soil, he said.
Extra Care Needed for Soggy Soils
Even if water drains quickly from fields, muddy soil, when it dries, can form a crusty surface that could delay the emergence of the plant, Thomison pointed out. Farmers facing this situation may have to rotary hoe to break up the crusty soil.
Farmers should watch for seedling diseases as well.
The color of an emerging corn plant should be white or off-white; a darker color could signal the plant’s death, Thomison said.
The farmers who waited to plant corn can high-five their friends who did the same. The optimal time to plant corn is between April 10 and May 10, but sometimes farmers plant in late May because the weather deters them from planting sooner.
Planting later in the season comes with some challenges including a shorter growing season and a higher risk of disease and plants succumbing to insects.
“The goal should be to plant under as favorable conditions as possible,” Thomison said, “but that may be difficult this year.”