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Harvest season a bit late this year; many corn crops down

TNS • Sep 16, 2019 at 1:36 PM

KENT — A plague of locusts or frogs? An early October blizzard, perhaps?

Area farmers would be within their rights to wonder that's next for them following a planting season of torrential downpours and destructive hail that claimed a significant amount of the feed corn crop at Dussel Farm in Brimfield.

"Some of the fields are pretty comical," said Dussel Farm co-owner Linda Dussel. "We had a couple hail storms. They hit some parts of the farm but not others. The leaves in the fields where the hail hit are striped like cheerleaders' pom-poms."

When hail hits corn, it knocks off the tassels, which are the source of pollen. This resulted in fewer kernels, she explained.

Corn yields are expected to be down 34 percent in Ohio compared to last year, according to crop forecasts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

That's 409 million bushels, down from 617 million bushels in 2018.

"If realized, this would be the smallest Ohio corn crop since 2008," Cheryl Turner, state statistician for the USDA, said in a release.

In Ohio, 67 percent of corn was listed as very poor, poor or fair condition. Only 33% was considered good or excellent, according to a state-issued crop condition report from USDA.

Nationally, corn production is expected to be down 4.3 percent to nearly 13.8 billion bushels.

John Wallbrown, owner of Deerfield Farms and Agricultural Services, said the rain in May and June has hurt the corn harvest.

"We have not harvested anything yet," he said. "I'm expecting -- if we get some rain here -- an average soybean crop and a little bit below average corn crop."

Of the 3,500 acres of corn he typically plants, he said he never seeded about 500 acres due to the rain early this year.

Paula Szalay of Szalay's Farm, located along the banks of the Cuyahoga River in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, said her farm also struggled with rain.

"We had to plant and replant," she said. "One field I even had to replant three times. It was one of the most difficult springs we've ever had."

With flat farm land in the floor of the Cuyahoga Valley, she said she's accustomed to coping with flooding, which she said is manageable compared to this year's weather. If a one-time flood hits, the water drains and planting can begin. This year, that was not the case.

"This past year, it rained continuously," she said. "It was very difficult. We had to do patchwork farming, an acre here and an acre there. The rains kept coming and coming. We used all our pumps and rented some pumps and kept pumping it out of our fields. If the seeds don't sit in water too long, they're OK."

Szalay said she had to discontinue wholesale sweet corn sales at Giant Eagle and Earth Fare earlier than usual because the corn is behind schedule.

"The corn itself is wonderful," she said, adding Szalay's will continue offering corn at its store at the corner of Bolanz and Riverview roads in the valley probably into October because the crop is behind schedule.

Wallbrown and Dussel also said their crops are running late this season. For Wallbrown, the late planting means the weather has to be ideal for the soybean crop to turn out well.

"We probably planted 1,000 acres between the 25th and 29th of June," he said. "When you plant late, you have no room for adversity."

Since heavy rains of May and June subsided, he said the weather has been OK, but now he said he needs rain.

"You could say July and August by and large were pretty good for crops," he said. "There are places that really got timely rains. We're scattered across five counties."

By the end of November, after the fall feed corn harvest and late soybean harvest, he said he'll have a better idea how 2019 turned out for him.

Dussel Farm and Szalay's both feature fall festivities centered around pumpkins, corn mazes and other fall fun. That season begins soon and can make a difference at the end of the season.

"Even the pumpkins got in later," said Dussel of their planting. "They were a couple weeks late."

This year, she said, the pumpkin sales would be even more important than normal because the feed corn crop appears to be about half its normal size.

Beth Burger of The Columbus Dispatch contributed to this report.

Reporter Bob Gaetjens cam be reached at 330-541-9440, bgaetjens@recordpub.com or @bobgaetjens_rpc.