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Weather Creates Difficult Season for Local Farmers

Monday, September 9, 2019 @ 12:09 AM

Posted by Aly Delp

15925_AG_Farmland_Preservation_ML_4CLARION CO., Pa. (EYT) – A sopping wet start to the planting season was a serious setback for farmers across the nation, including some of those in our area.

According to the most recent report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, the weather this year made for one of the worst planting seasons on record.

In Pennsylvania, as in much of the rest of the nation, both corn and soybean yields are down, as heavy rain, some flooding, and generally wet conditions prevented or delayed a great deal of planting in the late spring and early summer months. There were over 45,000 acres of farm and growing land left fallow this year in Pennsylvania alone.

According to Mike Ohler, of Sandy Valley Farms, in Polk, the early part of the season caused major problems for planting, which then bled over into the rest of the season. Ohler normally plants about 550 acres each of corn and soybeans.

“It was horrible. We typically like to start planting soybeans in late April, and early April wasn’t bad. But, in late April everything got wet and stayed wet until about May 12 when it finally dried out some and we were able to plant some corn,” Ohler told exploreClarion.com.

“We wanted to plant the soybeans early, but the corn is more dependent on the length of the season, so we had to change our plans and plant the corn first.”

Ohler said they were unable to get any soybeans planted until early June.

“At that point, it was so late I was really frustrated and scared about the results of the year.”

They were only able to plant the first 450 acres of soybeans in early June and then were unable to plant the remaining acreage until nearly the end of June, though the timing was entirely off.

Ohler noted that as the seed had already been treated with insecticide to resist fungus and to inoculate it against harmful bacteria, it couldn’t be returned, so even planting late and just hoping for some yield was better than throwing it away.

“I have no idea if the late ones will produce anything,” he noted.

While some of the crops did go in the ground earlier, the wet weather also continued far enough into the summer to cause additional problems. A significant area of the planted acreage was “drowned out,” and will not produce this year, according to Ohler.

“Everyone is aware of the horrific storms we had, but the little rains in between also just never let the soil recover,” Ohler explained.

“That knocks the oxygen content out of the soil, and the roots of plants need oxygen, just like the tops do. Saturated ground weakens the roots and creates ideal conditions for fungus to grow, especially detrimental ones.”

Ohler went on to say that even the plants that are productive are producing less than the typical yield. While he usually expects about 150 bushels per acre of corn, he’s estimating he may get about 125 bushels per acre this year. Soybeans are also faring poorly, with plants that normally produce about six to eight pods per node developing only about two pods per node this year, taking his average of 55 bushels per acre clear down to an estimated 35 bushels per acre.

“That’s really got me concerned,” he said.

With the season starting out so poorly, even smaller local produce growers were affected.

“It almost put us out of business,” said John Parker, of Edible Earth Farm, in Sandy Lake.

“I’ve never been so close to folding before.”

Edible Earth Farm grows primarily fruits and vegetables, which means they don’t have a single planting season, and nearly always have something being planted.

“We got an early start in April, but then May to mid-July was extremely difficult because the fields were saturated. The early stuff also performed poorly because of the weather,” Parker said.

Although he noted they’ve “rounded a corner” at this point in the season, with many of their fall crops, like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and lettuce doing quite well, Parker said that some of their long season crops, such as peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes, were nearly failures.

“The disease pressure is high because of the humidity and moisture,” he noted.

Bud Zacherl, of Zacherl’s Farm & Market, in Shippenville, noted that disease caused them some issues this year, as well.

“The tomatoes got late blight and ended our tomato season early,” Zacherl said.

“I guess a lot of people have been getting that. We were still able to salvage a lot, though.”

The Zacherl Farm fared better than some others, he noted.

Zacherl said they did have some difficulty getting thing planted in the spring, due to the wet weather, but once they got everything in the ground, the season began to improve.

“Everything did pretty well. The sweet corn was really good, all the rain, combined with the heat, seemed to help the corn, and we’re hoping the pumpkins will be good. We will start picking those this week.”

Tomato blight also hit a number of the plants at Calhoun Farm & Market, in Falls Creek, according to owner Lanna Calhoun.

“It didn’t hit us as early as it did last year, but right now, we’re waiting on having any tomatoes,” Calhoun said.

However, beyond the bit of blight, Calhoun said they had a good year, as well, particularly for their berries and their herbs, which they not only sell but also use to make jam and herbal remedies like salves.

“There were other things we had but didn’t have as many as we hoped because – for as much as you plant, you sometimes end up getting a smaller yield,” she noted.

Clarion River Organics, in Sligo, had a slightly different experience due to working with Amish farmers, owner Zeb Baccelli said.

“Amish farmers use horse-drawn equipment that can get out into the fields when tractors can’t,” Baccelli noted.

While they didn’t have any flooding and most of their crops did very well, they did run into one issue from the wet weather.

“The only negative impact here was slug damage during the wet, cloudy days in May and June. That cleared up later in the summer, though, and it was a good year for us.”


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