Rain Dampens Hope for Crops

May 18, 2011

Spencer County farmers are getting a bit nervous as last month went down in the history books as Kentucky’s wettest on record, hindering crop and vegetable planting.  Spencer County Agricultural Extension Agent Bryce Roberts said that although the situation hasn’t reached emergency status, the next couple of weeks could determine whether or not local farmers can plant crops that are in high global demand, such as corn and soybeans.

According to the Kentucky Weekly Crop and Weather Report, at this time in 2010, 82 percent of the state’s corn crop had been planted. The report estimated that only 17 percent of the crop was planted as of May 1.

“Right now, everybody’s anxious. If it keeps doing what it’s doing and we can’t get the corn planted for another few weeks, we certainly could be in some dire situations,” Roberts said.

Although the last couple of days have given farmers a break from the wet weather, the National Weather Service predicted at least a 30 percent chance for thunderstorms through Saturday.

Roberts said, in order for farmers to prepare the ground for planting, high ground that drains well would need to dry out for at least a week. He said bottom land that is flood-prone would probably need two weeks, noting that prematurely prepping and planting seeds in wet ground can hinder growth.

“We don’t want to work the soil while it’s still moist,” he said, noting that everyone from amateur gardeners to professional farmers should follow that rule. “It will cause compaction issues. As seeds sprout open, it’s basically trying to grow into concrete.”

Local farmer Scott Travis said he was able to plant a small portion of his corn crop before the rains came in late April. He said his Cox’s Creek farm has suffered minor flooding three times already this spring.

If farmers in the area can’t finish planting corn by early June, Travis said they would need to resort to an alternative crop because the growth window would be lost.

“There are so many variables that are already messed up,” Travis said. “That’s not to say that we can’t get all the corn planted between now and the end of the month, but the odds are stacking against us every day that it keeps raining.”

Travis noted that corn crops in the Midwest have likewise been hindered because of flooding, and the spring growing season in Texas has been obliterated by drought.

The United States provides close to 50 percent of the world’s corn, which is used for everything from producing ethanol fuel and feeding livestock, to producing high fructose corn syrup.

“The rest of the world doesn’t grow the corn that the United States does. The world is dependent on the U.S. to raise a good corn crop,” he said, noting that the price of goods and corn byproducts could skyrocket because of a potential shortage.

But local farmers aren’t completely in panic mode yet. Travis said a stretch of dry days in the next couple of weeks could still give farmers an opportunity to plant the corn and have a successful growing season. Even if farmers have to switch to an alternative crop like soybeans, there is still time.

Vegetable farmer and local farmer’s market coordinator Sandi Deutsch said Monday that the lack of sunlight and excess moisture has increased diseases in vegetable crops. She said her family usually plants squash and cucumbers in a high tunnel, but they haven’t been able to work the ground because it has been too wet.

“That may not even happen because it’s so late,” she said, noting that her tomato crop was also late because of the rain.

Deutsch said the bad weather has also hindered the Taylorsville Famers Market. The first two Saturdays of the market were rainy, keeping customers from frequenting the outdoor location on Main Street.

“Some of the (vendors) haven’t even shown up yet, because their stuff is so far behind that they just haven’t even come yet. It’s kept the customers away because it’s wet and they don’t want to come out,” she said.

Local cattle farmer David Goodlett said that he doesn’t raise any grain crops, but he feeds corn to his livestock. He also harvests hay.

“Right now, this hasn’t affected me too much, except that I can’t get any outdoor work done, period. I’m working on a fencing project that should have been done weeks ago,” Goodlett said.

Roberts said farmers raising tobacco or hay as primary crops aren’t in too much trouble, yet, but several more days of rain could negatively affect the outcome of all crops raised locally.

“The best thing that we can have is plenty of sunshine and a good, warm breeze. We just want warm, dry soil. A lot of folks will try to push it, instead of letting everything dry out, and I certainly can’t fault them for trying. But it’s better to just hold off for a day or two.”