Kris Swartz hasn’t been able to plant a single seed or spray a field this year.
“I don’t even have to go out and drive around,” said Swartz, a 58-year-old farmer in Wood County, about 12 miles south of Toledo. “Visually, I can tell it’s just too wet.”
He’s not alone.
As of Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that 50% of the state’s corn had been planted — an increase from 33% the week before. At the same time last year, 96% of the corn crop was in the ground.
The delay is the longest on record in Ohio, thanks to unprecedented rainfall. Even while the top soil layer might be dry, it remains wet just below the surface and takes days to dry. That makes it hard for seedlings to emerge.
The potential repercussions are widespread.
Livestock farmers who typically feed their animals from their own fields might have to seek outside sources. Coupled with meat shortages because of African swine flu in Asia and eastern Europe, consumers might have to pay extra at the grocery store, said Ben Brown, who oversees Ohio State University’s Farm Management Program through the College of Food, Agricultural & Environmental Sciences.
In addition, farmers who either haven’t planted or are just now planting are dealing with lots of weeds, some 2 to 3 feet tall. Farmers have been unable to get equipment into their fields to spray. And those unable to plant corn might switch to soybeans, which can be planted later.
Experts say this year’s corn harvest could be cut by a third to a half. On average, Ohio grows 3 million to 3.5 million acres of corn. This harvest could be reduced by about 1.25 million acres, Brown said.
That’s because of the record-breaking rainfall in the state over the past 12 months, which has prevented farmers from doing field work both last fall and this spring.
“The last 12-month period (June 2018 to May 2019) has been the wettest on record (for the state),” said Aaron Wilson, a senior research associate for the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center at Ohio State University. Records have been kept for 124 years.
This year, Ohio has had a record-breaking average of 51.61 inches of precipitation. In context, the 10-year average from 2009 to 2018 for the same time frame was 41.55 inches.
Farmers are seeing water in their fields where it’s never been before.
“This is why, “Wilson said.
Swartz, who grows corn, soybeans and wheat, said another farmer about 15 miles south of him panicked with the clock ticking and tried to plant earlier, because the later crops are planted, the lower the yields. As a result, the farmer’s tractor got stuck in a muddy field. The tractor sat there for nearly a week, until it was dry enough to pull it out and as a warning to other farmers.
“Northwest Ohio might be worse than any other place in the country,” Brown said.
Ohio isn’t the only state at the mercy of Mother Nature in the Midwestern Corn Belt, which collectively plants 75 million acres of corn a year on average. With some farmers forced to use insurance policies instead of plant crops this season, analysts anticipate record payouts for so-called “prevented planting” insurance.
As of Tuesday Swartz was spraying his fields. He’s still hopeful he can plant corn before Saturday, which he said is about the latest possible to date to do so. Swartz, who keeps track of when he plants each year, said it continues to get later.
The past few years, he planted by May 21. Five years before that it was May 5. Ten years before that, April 26.
“If you look at that trend, it’s not very good,” Swartz said.
Farmers remain eternal optimists in spite of this year’s record challenges, he said. Many already are looking forward to 2020.
“We always believe next year is going to be better,” Swartz said.