Last year, TMACOG followed three farmers during a full growing season to learn how they make decisions about fertilizer, planting, and water control. They are fully aware of the relationship between agriculture and Lake Erie’s water quality. See that video here.
In 2019, we checked back to see how the same farmers are coping with the unprecedented rainfall in the spring.
In June, Les Seiler of Fulton County said of the floods and rain, “we are making history every day here.” He talked to neighboring farmers in their 80s who said they have never seen anything like the precipitation pattern this year. At a time of year that he should have had seeds in the ground for more than a month, he had planted only about 40% of his corn and 20% of his beans. He can plant beans later than corn but after July 1, it’s too late to plant anything more this year. Winter crops that he harvests in June and July include barley and alfalfa. The barley was “junk,” he said. Alfalfa hay was pretty good although leaf hopper had caused some damage. Les was not happy about getting heavy machinery in the fields to harvest the alfalfa because the compression damages his fields, but the local grain silos were asking farmers for hay so he brought it in. Les is concerned about the effect all the rainfall will have on the lake. He wondered if the high water would dilute the runoff that carries fertilizer out of farm fields. And he hoped that without a lot of heat through the end of June, maybe the microsystin would not take off and grow.
In June, Les Seiler of Fulton County said of the floods and rain,
“we are making history every day here.”
Wood County farmers seem to be equally hard hit. Wood County Commissioner Doris Herringshaw’s family farms 2,000 acres in south-central Wood County. They did get a start on corn in mid-May but only got 25 acres corn planted out of a planned 1,0000. In very late June they started on soybeans and got 300 acres out of 1,000 before they ran out of time. Commissioner Herringshaw said that her family has, “Never seen it like this. Never, ever.” If things ever dry out this summer, they plan to put cover crops on the otherwise unplanted fields. Right now, because they couldn’t plant a cash crop, fields are covered with noxious weeds and thistles and no one wants that to go to seed. The Herringshaws had also hoped to get some tiling done but it was too wet to get in the fields until mid-July. The tiling company was idle for six months waiting for the weather to clear. Commissioner Herringshaw’s son is only in his second year of full-time farming. He keeps asking his father what to do in these conditions. The only answer is, “We don’t know what to do. We’ve never seen anything like it in our lifetimes.”
Brendyn George and his brother and a partner farm 2,000+ acres in southern Wood County. By June 22 he had not been able to plant any corn at all and only a few fields of soybeans. He’ll plant beans until the first of July. To keep his fields in shape, he’ll being doing improvements to fields: tiling to control water, improving soil quality for next year with lime and some fertilizer on his usual schedule, and controlling weeds.
The financial effects of a rainy spring will be long lasting. George will be looking for work for his semi trucks but he notes that his fellow farmers will also be looking to pick up extra work like that. After a season of minimal planting and small harvest this fall, there won’t be a lot of equipment maintenance to do next winter, but there will still be people to pay and keep busy.
Mike Libben, from the Ottawa Soil and Water Conservation District, estimated in early July that only 30% of fields in his district had been planted with any crop. David Myerholtz is one Ottawa County farmer that TMACOG talked to. In early June he was doing about the same as his neighbors. He had 22% of corn in and 44% of soybeans. He said that because of the weather, there are “lots of issues we’re dealing with on the farm that are unusual,” including a severe infestation of disease in the winter wheat crop which is due to be harvested in mid-July.