Farmers dodge the raindrops to keep crop cycle on track
As the old saying goes, “make hay while the sun shines.”
But what happens when the sun doesn’t shine? What happens to the hay?
It doesn’t take a meteorologist to know that Indiana has been getting more than its fair share of rain lately. Since the beginning of June, Indiana has been doused with approximately 11.1 inches of rain according to AccuWeather. The normal amount of rainfall for this period is 6.06 inches.
Indiana’s extensive farming community has been feeling the impact of the weather. Sure, plants need water to grow, but what happens when the water never stops coming?
“We’ve had a lot of rain,” said Robert Pollock, an educator with Penn State Extension. “When the ground gets saturated to the point that we’ve had lately, that will tend to negatively affect some of the crops.”
Penn State Extension is part of the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences.
One of the hardest-hit crops has been hay, he said. Ensuring that harvested hay is properly dried prevents molds from developing as well as bacteria and fungi, which can not only damage the quality of the hay but has been known to create spontaneous combustion in storage.
“It’s important that when it gets to the right maturity point, that they need to be able to mow it down and get it to dry down and bale it and then get it stored before it gets wet,” Pollock said. “That’s been a real challenge.”
Too much moisture can also take away from the nutritional value of feed hay, causing farmers to seek alternate sources of food for their animals. This will often drive up feed costs for the farmer, he said.
Rebecca Bracken, a local hay farmer, had been hoping for a few days of dry weather to bring in her harvest. A few days of sun gave her the break she needed, and she was able to mow.
“There was no loss at this point,” she said. “Another week, though, the hay may have gone bad and been a total loss.”
Waterlogged soil can also affect the quality of a crop. Much of the soil in the Indiana area has clay as part of its content, according to Pollock. Water can only drain so fast through clay soil, and if the water sits long enough, it can cause a total loss of plants in that particular area.
“The ground gets waterlogged enough that those plants start to suffer,” Pollock said, “then they never fully yield their potential had that not happened.”
A number of storm systems have been moving south to north, according to Pollock. Growing seasons start earlier in the South, meaning crops are developed and harvested earlier in the year. With these developed crops come diseases and insects that can be carried on the fronts to crops that are still growing farther north.
Crops that remain constantly wet and never have a chance to dry off are also more susceptible to disease problems, such as fungi and molds, which will reduce the quality of the crop, he said.
Andy Fabin grows corn, soybeans and wheat just south of Indiana. While the rain hasn’t affected his corn or soybeans as much, it has slowed down the wheat harvest.
“With the rain, you can’t get into the fields to harvest the wheat,” he said.
If the wheat stays wet for too long, it will sprout and increase the risk of developing certain molds. However, Fabin hasn’t seen any problems with his wheat yet.
“We’re just hoping for a couple of days of good weather to get into it and get as much as we can,” he said.
Constant rain can also affect the planting schedule of crops, according to Pollock. Continual growth relies upon the ability to continually plant and harvest. Crops like sweet corn can be planted and harvested several times in a single season.
“The wet weather can foul you up on that,” Pollock said. “It creates gaps in production. Things start to mature together instead of spaced out for a consistent supply.”
When it comes to weather, the best any farmer can do is to check the forecast and hope for the best.
“You always pray for rain,” Fabin said, “but sometimes it can slow down progress as well.”