In the wake of heavy rainfall in the spring and into the summer, local Purdue Extension educators reported it’s been a difficult year for area farmers and Howard and Tipton counties' two most prevalent crops: corn and soybeans.
However, a report published this month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture states that despite heavy rainfall, the estimate for Indiana is an unchanged yield in corn from last year and a slightly lesser yield for soybeans. Local extension officers believe only time will tell whether those numbers ring true locally.
Howard County Purdue Extension Educator Paul Marcellino said he doesn’t expect 2017 to be “a banner year” for Howard County farmers, saying that rain was problematic for area farmers during the planting season in April and May.
“As we progressed through the season, it just didn’t get any better,” said Marcellino. “We just continued to have these rains that … caused issues, especially with our soybean crop.”
Soybeans, a crop that requires heat and timely rainfall, have been getting planted later and later in the season, he added, to ensure they get the sunlight they require.
Weather conditions over the next few weeks will be important for the crop to bring in more bushels, said Marcellino.
Marcellino and Tipton County Purdue Extension Educator Austin Pearson echoed each other's words by saying preferable weather for crops over the next weeks would include temperatures in the mid-80s and occasional rainfall.
Pearson, citing the USDA report, said some educators were surprised to see the estimated yields in Indiana, with corn estimates coming in at 173 bushels per acre, and soybeans at 55 bushels per acre.
“I do feel this number is a little bit of an overestimate,” said Pearson, referencing the corn estimates specifically.
Area farmers, Pearson said, have reported planting and replanting in some areas as many as four to five times, and called that “unprecedented.” Ponding in low areas in fields has caused some fields in both counties to have spots where nothing is growing.
“I will say that some of the higher grounds where it did not flood, some of the farmers are reporting it’s probably the best corn they’ve seen on the higher grounds, but the lower grounds are going to be almost a complete loss,” said Pearson.
Marcellino had similar words for Howard County, adding that time will tell if the healthy crops on high ground will do much to offset the predicted poorer yield on low-laying acres.
From the roadside, the full scope of field conditions isn't apparent, said Marcellino, adding that fields in general could look pretty good as someone drives down the road.
“But I would dare say, if you took a drone up in the sky and started looking, you would see all the spots where there’s either no corn,” or that have much shorter corn than healthier areas, he said. That kind of differing plant maturity is another issue, he added, saying the plants’ differing heights can cause inconsistent pollination.
Tipton and Howard counties have heavy clay soils, which cling to water, and make constructed drainage like tiles and open ditches all the more important. However, Marcellino said that field drainage wasn’t enough for the heavy rainfall experienced this year, adding that it seems rainfall has become more erratic recently.
“Everybody’s got their opinion if it’s global warming or just cycles, or whatever it is, but it’s erratic … we just seem to have bigger rainfall events,” he said.
A congressional mandated Climate Science Special Report recently released states that rainfall has increased across the U.S. by 4 percent since 1901, and listed the Midwest as an area that has experienced more frequent rainfall. The increase in precipitation is expected to continue, the report states.
Pearson said, when talking to farmers, that they've told him it's been one of the rainiest years in recent memory.
“As soon as the fields would begin to dry out and farmers were trying to get back in the fields and take care of weeds and all that stuff, we would get another heavy rain, and that would really push things back again,” he said.
One big rain-related problem is the water can wash away nitrogen, a main component in fertilizer, said Marcellino, which is susceptible to being pulled away from the plant and into drains. The side effects of nitrogen loss, he added, can be seen in yellowing on the bottom of leaves.
Regardless of this year’s difficulty, Marcellino praised area farmer’s ability to get things done.
“Our farmers are amazing. It has been displayed this year, because they still got the crops in under the most horrid circumstances, and they can plant a lot of acres in a day. They’ve got the equipment, the know-how and expertise and just good old-fashioned willingness to work around the clock to get it accomplished. If any industry can get a job done, they can,” he said.