SHELBY -- Fourth generation farmer Jake Rietschlin never planted fields on Sundays, not until this year when he and his family were forced to take advantage of any dry weather.
Racing to beat rain forecasted for the following day, the Shelby man felt fortunate his family -- his two brothers Sam and Andy, their father Mark and himself -- finished planting their 500-acre farm Sunday, June 23.
“We were at my parents house the other day, talking about how we don’t remember anything like this,” Rietschlin said. “We were brought up to never work on Sunday. It was a day of rest, but this year, we planted on Sunday because we had to get it in.”
Corn fields in late June 2018 were waist, maybe even chest-high, he estimated. This year, he simply hopes to see corn stalks peeking out of the ground, ankle high by Fourth of July. Some of the fields were only planted two weeks ago.
Soybean planting was equally behind schedule. Pumpkins, which the Rietschlin family grows for the farm’s fall festivities, are only now getting their start. In a good year, the pumpkins would have been in the ground by the end of May.
“I’m optimistic. I know, our yields won’t be like they were last year, but we’ve done all we can do,” Rietschlin said.
He considers his family fortunate.
Other Ohio farmers are still trying to get their crops planted. Nearing the end of June, some still hadn’t had an opportunity to start. Fields remained under water, And rain keeps pouring, keeping them in that condition.
Jason Hartschuh, of the Ohio State Extension Agency for Agriculture, estimates about 65 percent of corn has been planted in Richland County and 75 percent in Crawford County.
“But we do have certain pockets in counties pretty close to us that only have 10 percent of the corn planted,” said Hartschuh, who acts as an agriculture & natural resources educator.
Disaster Relief & Crop Insurance
Many Ohio farmers will have few options this year. Some will collect crop insurance to cover a portion of their losses, and others may receive help from disaster relief programs.
“Crop insurance basically covers your input. It covers your loss, but not much more than that,” Rietschlin said.
Hartschuh agreed, explaining how crop insurance is designed for crop failure. Farmers receive a percentage of what they might have made based on their historical yields.
“It helps, but it’s nowhere near the same as what could have been their income,” Hartschuh said.
Disaster relief programs are offering further assistance, too, due to the region’s “extreme weather conditions.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resources Conservation Service announced June 28 its intent to spend $4 million in helping Ohio farmers recover from the excessive rains and tornadoes.
The technical and financial assistance is offered through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) through a special disaster recovery sign-up. The program is available to farmers who were unable to plant their crops, or who have experienced crop loss due to flooded or wet fields. It allows them to instead plant a cover crop, which could enhance their 2020 planting year.
“NRCS can be a valuable partner to help Ohio landlords with their agriculture recovery effort,” said state conservationist Terry Cosby, for NRCS in Ohio. “This special sign-up encourages farmers to plant cover crops to improve water quality and soil health, prevent erosion and suppress weeds on areas not planted for crops.”
Cover crops provide an alternative to fields sitting fallow or remaining uncovered. They also improve soil vitality by adding nutrients and organic matter, and their roots create pathways for air and water to move through the soil, which can be key to restoring it after its been saturated for a long period.
To apply for this opportunity, farmers should visit their local USDA Service Center. Applications will be accepted beginning July 1 until funding is exhausted.
The potential long-term impact of this year’s weather is yet to be fully understood, according to Abra Dunn, organization director for Crawford, Marion, Morrow and Richland County Farm Bureaus.
“It could be way too early to tell,” she said. “We don’t know how significant it will be yet for the average person, but it’s already impacted farmers across the entire Midwest.”
Livestock farmers are already feeling the effects, as hay hasn’t been cut, causing feed shortages. Hartschuh has seen some Ohio farmers hauling hay in from Kansas and elsewhere.
This, he said, could drive up feed costs, which in turn could drive up prices for meat.
In Shelby, the Rietschlin family hopes their fields yield at least “some type of crop” and given the time and appropriate weather, they’ll still offer all their fall festivities, including a pumpkin patch and corn maze.
“Our yields will be down quite a bit,” Rietschlin said. “Just keep us in your thoughts and prayers. Some farmers are facing some serious financial stress.”