Farmers getting a late start
Weather slows planting
Farmers say the cold, damp spring set them behind but a recent warm spell is allowing them to catch up with their planting.
Rainfall for April was above normal and temperatures were below normal in the Altoona area, said AccuWeather meteorologist Tom Kines.
Precipitation recorded at the Altoona-Blair County Airport at Martinsburg was 3.8 inches, compared to the normal 3.19 inches. The average temperature was 45.3 degrees, 3.6 degrees below normal, Kines said.
“April was certainly one of the coolest over the past 50 years,” Kines said. “We also had 4 inches of snow which is more than we had in January.”
Needless to say, the weather hasn’t been kind to area farmers.
“We’re working 20-hour days trying to make up for lost time due to the weather, finally we got some nice weather, we’re getting corn planting done now rapidly,” said Marty Yahner, who with his brother, Rick, are partners in Yahner Bros. Farm in Patton.
“The unusually cold, wet March and April made it very difficult to get any field work done in preparation of planting even oats, which is planted before corn or soy beans,” Yahner said.
Problems began back in the winter.
“All winter long, it was next to impossible to even cut brush or trim trees along fence rows due to the bitter cold or snow or mud when it thawed,” Yahner said.
The wet and cold weather put farmers across the state behind schedule in terms of planting, said Mark O’Neill, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau spokesman.
“Typically farmers need several days in a row of dry weather in order to be able to plant their seeds, and in many circumstances, the land needs to be dry in order to withstand the weight of farm equipment. In addition, farmers need the ground temperature to be at a minimum of 50 degrees before planting into the soil. So, an extended cold spell throughout the spring also played a factor in delaying the planting season,” O’Neill said.
Farmers appreciate the moisture and have learned over the years to take it when we get it, said Jim Biddle, owner of Mill Hill Farms LLC near Williamsburg.
“The major effect of moisture is the delay of getting manure applied ahead of spring planting which in combination with cold soil temperatures tends to delay planting. Everything has been delayed about 2-3 weeks due to the cooler weather that we’ve been experiencing,” Biddle said.
However, the recent warm spell has been helpful.
“Spring forage crops such as alfalfa, grass and small grains (triticale, wheat, rye and barley) have been very slow to grow. The vegetative growth of spring forages is what produces the feed that is harvested and fed to dairy cattle. Three days of 80+ degree temperatures has allowed these forages to accelerate growth, nearly doubling in height. Harvest will still be delayed but maybe only a week or so,” Biddle said.
“Personally, it has me about two weeks behind to get started planting. With the good, warm weather it is now turning around,” said Douglas Smith, owner of Dry Creek Farm near Martinsburg. “The larger farms are affected more as they have more to get planted. I can get my crops planted in 10 days if we have decent weather.”
Many crops including popular sweet corn will be late.
“It will be difficult to get any sweet corn by the Fourth of July because of the cold damp weather. I planted April 22; it is usually planted around the 10th,” said Gary Long of Sinking Valley.
“Sweet corn growers shoot for a late June to July 4 first harvest. We are probably not going to see local sweet corn for the Fourth of July this year. I would anticipate that we will see our first local sweet corn harvest around July 10 based on planting trends,” said Thomas G. Ford, Penn State Extension commercial horticulture educator. “If there are any growers that are able to harvest local sweet corn for July Fourth demand could take the price up to $7 a dozen.”
Other crops also will be late.
“There will also be a delay in planting strawberries, they will be a little late. A lot of plants like tomatoes and peppers are started in the greenhouse and then transplanted. They may be a little bigger than ideal when they are able to be planted outside. Most of the vegetables will be late this year because of the weather,” Long said. “Farmers’ hay crops will also be late. They like to get their first cutting around May 20 but that won’t happen, more likely around May 30.”
“Crops such as sweet corn might not be ready for sale until later in the summer. … Even the very short strawberry season in Pennsylvania could be hampered due to a delay of getting the plant into the soil,” O’Neill said.
Some fruit trees are behind schedule but that could be beneficial.
“Cherry trees and apple trees are later because of the cold temperatures, but that is better than buds coming out early and freezing,” Long said.
Every spring is different.
“Farmers have learned to adapt by changing cropping strategies like implementing no-till, hiring some manure hauling, planting and harvesting if needed. Also, equipment is larger and more sophisticated so that time is better utilized during short weather windows. Farmers are resilient and do what is necessary to get the work done,” Biddle said.
“Mother Nature has a way of evening the weather out. I told everybody back when we had record warm temperatures in February that we were going to pay for it in March. It turned out we paid for it in April,” Yahner said.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.