Rain leading to struggles for area farmers

Rain isn’t only taking hillsides and lanes of highway with it in Ohio–farmers are also experiencing crop loss due to flooded or wet fields.

“Some folks had their land prepared but couldn’t get crops in the ground in time between all the rain and saturated soil,” said Dave Bauerbach, district conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington County. “But without a crop stabilizing the ground and absorbing those nutrients, it could affect water and soil quality.”

In Washington County, according to the U.S. Farm Service Agency, the last two years of heavy rains have taken their toll on crops in the area, with farmers reporting 1,200 acres of cover crops planted instead of their planned cash crops.

“In Washington County our two major row crops are corn and soybeans with about 18,000 acres between the two, but this year so far farmers are reporting that we have 300 acres of preventative planting going in because they weren’t able to plant their row crops in time for good maturity,” said Doug Miller, executive director for the county Farm Service Agency. “And crop maturity is significantly behind both for row crops and for folks trying to get hay made. Last week was the first really dry enough week to get that in.”

Meade Huck, 56, of Watertown Township, said it feels like a snowball effect, with work piling up because of the rains.

“You get held up a week or 10 days at a time, but the heat we’re having right now is thankfully making things grow,” Huck said. “June was nice to sleep in at night, but things didn’t grow, so even the crops we did get in the ground are behind.”

However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture began accepting applications Monday to help those who were unable to plant through the wet spring.

“The goal is just to have something alive in the ground, help retain the phosphorus in the soil already, keep the soil microbiology healthy and the soil cool,” said Bauerbach.

To combat the issue across the state, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service has invested $4 million into the already established Environmental Quality Incentives Program for special disaster recovery this summer, encouraging cover crops to be planted and coordinating technical assistance with farmers so their soils remain healthy into the next growing season and keeps down weeds in between.

“It’s not customary for most folks to keep a summer crop, that’s usually a fall/winter activity to keep the land covered and not lose soil through the winter,” Bauerbach explained. “But our goal is to protect the soil and water now, and also not waste fertilizer.”

Through EQIP, a voluntary conservation program, Bauerbach said farmers can apply for the incentive grant program through their local NRCS office.

“It is on a per-acre basis, roughly around $30-per-acre depending on the area and status of the applicant,” he explained. “When folks apply (throughout July) our first gathering process will happen on July 12, then July 19 and 26 and then each week after those applications are received we’ll be able to award.”

The incentive grant would be provided after the crops have been planted, but farmers would be encouraged to plant cover crops of their choice as soon as the application is granted.

“Then, once the practice is complete, we can release the payment. It’s based on an assumed 70 percent cost of the crop and what crops the USDA approves for this program,” Bauerbach continued. “They’ve approved warm season annual crops that would do well in the hottest part of the summer, so we’d be looking to put in small grains, cereal rye, radishes, spelt –the USDA has even approved as a cover crop; corn and soybeans.”

Corn and soybeans are Huck’s bread and butter though in Watertown Township.

“Last year I couldn’t get any corn or soybeans planted because it was so wet. But today I was working some ground to plant our gourds and pumpkins,” said the farmer. “Now we just need a good, dry fall and winter so we can get out in the field and harvest, that will be a lot later this season.”

Bauerbach said forage and silage will also be approved to cover crops through the program, preventing a loss of soil organisms and utilizing crop roots to create pathways for air and water to move through the soil.

Additional information is available on the NRCS website and farmers.gov/prevented-planting.

To apply for the EQIP opportunity, visit your local USDA Service Center.

Janelle Patterson can be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.

How to Apply:

• The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is releasing $4 million to Ohio farmers through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to encourage cover crops this summer.

• For more information and to apply contact your local conservationist:

• Washington County: Marietta field office, 21330 State Route 676, Marietta,740-374-7291, ext. 3.

• Monroe County: Barnesville field office, 1119 East Main St., Barnesville, 740-619-3002.

• Noble County: Cambridge field office, 1300 Clark St., Cambridge, 740-421-3370.

• Morgan County: Zanesville field office, 225 Underwood St., Zanesville, 740-617-2476.

Source: Dave Bauerbach.

Specific attributes of different cover crops grown after each cash crop:

• For nitrogen: cowpea, crotalaria, winter pea, red and sweet clover, hairy vetch, and soybeans.

• For reducing compaction: Brassicas like turnips, oilseed or tillage radish, and annual ryegrass.

• For recapturing excess nutrients: Brassicas like turnips, oilseed or tillage radish, cereal rye, annual ryegrass, buckwheat, and oats when planted with manures.

• For organic matter: cereal rye, annual ryegrass, Sorghum Sudan grass, and oats.

• In droughty soils: buckwheat, cowpea, and teff.

• For hay crops: oats, cereal rye, triticale, field pea, Sorghum Sudan grass, teff.

• For weed control and disease suppression: cereal rye, buckwheat, mustard, and oilseed and tillage radish.

Source: The Ohio State University Extension.