PANDORA — To paraphrase a popular TV commercial, when it comes to farming, Jerry Suter knows a thing or two, because he’s seen a thing or two.
Last year it was a 1-millimeter insect called a thrip. The bugs were blown into the region on the abnormally hot May winds out of the south.
“They sucked the life out of the strawberry blooms,” Suter said. For the first time in 40 years, he was left without a strawberry crop.
This year, it has been a constant rainfall that began in early April and continued right into May. It saturated the ground with nearly 6 inches of rain, well above the 3½ inches that is normal.
As Suter points out, “The one thing you can count on when you’re a farmer is that you never know what you can count on.”
The 64-year-old grandfather has been farming at 12200 Pandora Road in Putnam County for all but two years of his adult life. The ground he works today is the same soil his father once farmed, and he has raised his family in the same home where he grew up as a boy.
Suter has seen plenty of wet starts to spring planting, but he ranks this one among the worst.
“It’s not only the big storms we’ve had the last month, but when it’s not storming, every other day we’ll get a shower,” he said. “When the rain does stop, it’s going to take a couple weeks for the fields to dry out before you can get on them.”
And so he plays the waiting game, a ritual that demands patience from all of those who tend to the 1,270 farms in Putnam County. Every day that goes by without a tractor in the field leaves these farmers worrying about their yields come fall harvest time.
“It’s very difficult to be patient when you’ve been sitting at the starting line, raring to go,” Suter admitted. “Dad always said, ‘Make sure the soil dries out; don’t plant wet.’ If you get out there when it’s too wet, the soil gets compacted, and then when it does dry out, it’s hard like a brick, and the roots can’t get through.
“No doubt everyone wishes they could get out and plant right now. A farmer is happiest when he or she’s out planting their crop. There’s still time to get a grain crop in.”
Suter’s Produce Farm is known for the many red barns it sets up in communities across the region. Each morning, the barns are stocked with produce that has been picked just hours earlier. The big sellers are strawberries and sweet corn, and it’s not unusual for a barn to sell out within hours after opening.
He still figures he’ll have strawberries around the first week of June.
“We have some plants where the white flower is starting to come out of the crown,” he said.
Suter’s summer help consists of high school and college students. They pick the crops and run the produce stands. Many of them are brothers or sisters of those who have worked during previous summers.
“People who say kids don’t know how to work should come out to our farm. They’ll find out they sure do. I hire around 100 each summer, and I’m proud of each of them,” he said. “Farming is hard work, and they don’t back away. What I really enjoy is that it’s quiet when you’re out in the fields, and there’s time to talk. We have some great discussions … a rare thing in today’s world.’’
Suter and his son, Tom, farm 500 acres. Jerry’s wife, Nancy, also helps with the farm – “she knows as much as I do if not more” – as well as their eight grandchildren.
“It’s nice working together as a family. The grandkids are wonderful helpers.”
Listening to Suter, it’s hard to believe there was a period of time – albeit a short one — when he didn’t farm.
“I taught high school math for two years at Bluffton,” Suter recalled. “In 1968, I asked Dad if I could help him farm full time. He was all smiles.”
Being a steward of the land that his father once worked is a feeling that only a farmer can understand.
“It’s just a pleasure to plant a seed and watch it grow. It’s like you’re watching a gift from God. I don’t know how else to explain it.”
ROSES AND THORNS: Twenty-five out of 25 will get you a spot in the rose garden.
Rose: To Cameron Elwer, of Delphos. He hit all 25 of his free throws to win the national championship in the Boys 12-13 Division of the Elks Hoop Shoot contest in Chicago. Cameron was representing Lima Elks Lodge No. 54
Rose: To Principal Tony Cox and the staff at Shawnee High School. For the second-straight year they earned a Best High School distinction from U.S. News and World Report. This year, Shawnee was ranked 44th in Ohio, up from last year’s ranking of 125. It’s national ranking wa 1,443, moving up 1,180 spots from 2,623 a year ago.
Rose: The GoFundMe fund-raiser for the family of Eric Nolte exceeded $26,600 by 5 p.m Friday. Nolte, of Lima, drowned while trying to save his dog from the rain-swollen Ottawa River. He is survived by his wife, Jenna, and his two children, Hayden, a second-grader, and Madalynn, a first-grader.
PARTING SHOT: All mothers are working mothers — words to remember with Mother’s Day coming this Sunday.
Jim Krumel is the editor of The Lima News. Contact him at 567-242-0391 or at The Lima News, 3515 Elida Road, Lima, Ohio 45807.