Getting soaked

Problems for farmers grow with rainy spring

Mirror photo by Greg Bock / Gary Long walks through a field of sweet corn in Sinking Valley. He said the wet spring is delaying its growth.

That old saying about sweet corn, “Knee high by the Fourth of July,” probably won’t apply this year thanks to a warm, wet spring that has left area farmers dealing with a rainy spring followed by another wet June.

“This is, for the most part, a really bad year,” said Tom Ford, commercial horticulture educator with Penn State Cooperative Extension. “Growers are having problems.”

Ford said the rainy weather has multiple implications for farmers, from planting to fertilizing and insecticides and disease.

Heavy rain means fertilizer washes away and plants don’t get the nutrients they need and it also affects how growers can apply insecticide, Ford explained.

Strawberry growers were hit hard this year by the weather, Ford said, with the overall quality and quantity down due to damaging rain.

“Some believe this is the worst season ever,” Ford said.

Too much rain also makes crops more susceptible to disease.

“All the vegetable growers are fighting diseases significantly in their fields,” he said, adding that even homeowners may see the impact — beyond extra lawn mowing — on trees and shrubs because of the wet weather and anthracnose fungus.

“Homeowners see their oak trees start dropping leaves and they think the tree is dying, but it will recover,” Ford said.

If the pattern continues, farmers will likely run into problems with microtoxins compromising the quality of their feed corn.

“We want to see this rain slow down a little bit,” Ford said.

June wet, but July hot

National Weather Service meteorologist Paul Head said this week that June was among the top 10 wettest ever, but July is looking to be drier.

“It’s going to get really hot,” Head said. “It will be quite July-ish: hazy, hot and humid.”

AccuWeather meteorologist Alyson Hoegg said that prior to Wednesday’s rain, Blair County had a total of 5.11 inches of rain for the month of June, which is 150 percent of the average June rainfall of 3.48 inches.

“Going back over the past couple of years, we’ve seen above average rainfall in June,” Hoegg said, noting the exception was 2016 when it was below average.

“There’s going to be a flip in the weather pattern,” Hoegg said, pointing out a warm air mass out of the Southeast with a big high pressure area over the East Coast will mean high temperatures and humidity.

What that means for area farmers remains to be seen.

“Things have been growing extremely well — planting is done and there’s plenty of water,” said Gary Long, president of the Blair County Farm Bureau, as he talked about his fields of sweet corn in Sinking Valley. “What we’re concerned about now is, if things dry out, the plants don’t have a deep root system. A week of hot and dry weather won’t kill the corn, only prompt the plants to grow deeper roots, but a half of a month with no rain will cause real problems.

“We’re still having trouble getting the field work done in a timely manner,” Long said, noting that many crops were planted late.

That means several more weeks before sweet corn is ready, but on the flip side, it also means later availability, with expectations of corn through September and into October, he said.

Dry spell can hurt

“But we don’t want a dry spell,” he said, noting that the “knee high” saying has a practical side — that’s the height corn needs to be to shade the ground and prevent the sun from drying up the ground. When it’s planted late, the corn may not get that high before the hot days of summer.

Long said that some farmers have had a worse time this year, depending on what they are growing and how well their land drains water. Hay farmers, he pointed out, were 10 days behind in getting the first cut in, so that means the second cut will be 20 days late. When farmers expect four cuts of hay a year, that delay eliminates one of the four, he said.

Marty Yahner of Yahner Bros. Farms in Cambria County said they have had to replant 100 acres of corn on their Patton farm because of waterlogged fields.

“And a lot drowned out a second time,” Yahner said.

“It’s been very bad,” Yahner, a six-generation farmer, said of the situation with the rain. Even when crops in waterlogged areas of the fields don’t drown, they don’t fully recover because of a lack of nitrogen — something he said is visible in pale yellow and light green crops.

Winter wheat, which was planted last fall, is ripening now, but it’s a crop that needs dry, sunny weather, lest it becomes susceptible to disease. Then it can’t be sold for flour and can only be sold for feed, which is about half the value, Yahner said.

No frost helps plants

In Claysburg, 71-year-old, third-generation farmer Sam Weyant said for him, it’s been a better year than last and “ideal weather for growing conditions.”

“Last year was wet and cold,” Weyant said. “This year, it’s wet and warm.”

He said ground where water collected will kill the plants, so he planted around those areas. Weyant said there were times he couldn’t get into the fields to plant, so he was forced to go in later and plant corn with shorter growing days.

“A little later than last year,” Weyant said, adding the corn was “just in the tassel” stage.

“It’s better than irrigating,” he added.

Weyant said his tomatoes and pumpkins “look beautiful,” and despite the challenges of the wet weather, there was no frost — what he called a once in 20-year occurrence.

Had he known, he would have planted sooner, and as the temperatures get into the 90s with warm nights, Weyant said he didn’t think things could be better.

“That’s corn weather,” Weyant said.

Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.

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