ALLEN COUNTY — Empty fields stretch for miles in this region of northwest Ohio, which has experienced one of the wettest growing seasons in recent memory.
Farmers are growing less optimistic by the day. Fields have remained saturated for months, forcing farmers to choose between planting their crop in difficult conditions or claiming prevented planting, a crop insurance claim for those who are unable to plant.
The situation is unlikely to change now that major prevented planting deadlines have passed.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Ben Bowser, whose 1,600 acres of farmland in Allen, Auglaize and Hardin counties were too wet for fieldwork for most of the corn and soybean planting season.
Bowser was able to plant most of his soybean crops this year, despite the less than desirable conditions. But he decided not to plant any corn, as his fields were unworkable in the days prior to the June 5 prevented planting deadline.
“Financially, for our operation, I wasn’t willing to take the risk (and) plant corn after that date,” he said. “We’re strictly a grain farm, so we don’t have to have it.”
Bowser didn’t consider any of his fields to be fully fit to plant. But as time went by and the second major prevented planting date drew near, he decided to get out into the fields and plant as much soybeans as he could.
It took four days. Patches of ground were still too wet to work in, but “the sun was shining,” Bowser said. “We were in June on the calendar. It was time to get something done.”
The situation doesn’t look so bad nationally. Ninety-two percent of corn and 77% of soybean crops in top producing states, including Ohio, have already been planted. But Ohio is behind significantly.
As of June 17, Ohio farmers had planted just 68% of the state’s corn crop and 46% of the soybean crop, according to the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture crop progress report.
Northwest Ohio has been hit particularly hard.
Mark Badertscher, an agriculture and natural resources educator for the OSU Hardin County extension office, estimated that Hardin County farmers had planted between 25% and 50% of the county’s corn and 15% to 35% of soybeans as of last week. He doesn’t expect to see those numbers change much now that prevented planting deadlines have passed.
“We had a rainy, wet April and in May the rain kept continuing and kept the soil saturated,” he said. “Now through June, we’ve been hit hard here.”
Those farmers who were able to get in the fields are now contending with standing water, which Badertscher said can kill corn after two to three days.
“The only thing that’s growing is the weeds and they’re growing fast with all this moisture,” Badertscher said. “As we get more heat, they’re really going to shoot up.”
The situation is likely to ripple through other parts of the agriculture world.
Brad Wingfield, owner of Wingfield Crop Insurance Agency in Kenton, said he’s seen a “drastic increase” in prevented planting insurance claims this season. He estimates upwards of 80% of farmers in his area will file a prevented planting claim for at least one of their fields.
“Everybody the farmers deals with — retailers that provide the inputs and seed, chemical fertilizers, the machinery dealers — farmers aren’t likely to spend as much money this year on things they don’t have to have,” Bowser said.
The ethanol industry, a large buyer of grain in this region, will likely be affected too.
“There will probably be some impact but what that looks like right now, we don’t really know,” said Ken Miceli, a general manager for Poet Biorefinery in Leipsic. Miceli said the refinery can purchase grain from within a 75-mile radius, extending into Michigan and Indiana.
“What you’re seeing is the prices going up at least this week because everybody’s just waiting,” Miceli said. “I remain optimistic. I’m sure there will be some impact.”
For the farmers anticipating financial losses this year, Badertscher said some are now looking for new sources of income.
“We always learn from these types of years, where we can fine-tune operations, where we can diversify,” he said. “Some farmers are looking at new sources of income, maybe diversifying their crops or their livestock to provide other sources of income. But for a lot of them, it’s what they do. It’s what their family has done for years and they’re going to find a way to make it work the best that they can.”
Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.