For Cayuga County farmers, this spring’s workload has been sprints and sputters, with many stops and starts, as unusually cool and wet weather is disrupting planting.
There were just five days without rain in the month of May. June was off to a similar start; a three-day stretch of sunny skies and warm temperatures opened a window for planting crops and harvesting hay.
“We typically want to be done planting corn by this time. We are about 50-percent planted and some of the corn was planted in less-than-ideal conditions,” said Jon Patterson, owner and operator of Patterson Farms in Aurelius.
Patterson plans to plant 1,200 acres of corn, in addition to other crops, to feed his 1,500 milking cows and 1,200 youngstock, But many of his fields are too muddy to work up with planting equipment.
“In the short window between storms, we wait for the ground to dry off and then we fit the ground,” Patterson said. “Some fields are too wet to plant.”
The weather pattern in Cayuga County occurred throughout a large swath of the United States, including widespread flooding in Midwest and Great Plains states.
“(S)howers and thunderstorms persisted for much of the week across large sections of the Plains, Midwest and Northeast, maintaining soggy conditions and perpetuating fieldwork delays. Conditions began to improve in some areas late in the week, although a return to large-scale planting was limited to drier and better-drained soils,” said the Weekly Crop and Weather Bulletin released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on June 4.
Across the nation, farmers had planted 83 percent of anticipated corn for this year by June 10, up from 67 percent of the corn crop planted on June 4, but below the five-year average of 99 percent for June 10, according to USDA. Nationally, soybeans were at 60 percent of the expected crop planted on June 10, up from 39 percent the previous week, and below the five-year June 10 average of 88 percent planted.
Chuck and Jenny Kyle grow corn, soybeans, hay and green beans on Kyle Farms in Cato. The Kyles anticipated growing 200 acres of green beans, which are sold to a processing plant.
“We have been able to plant about half of our contracted acreage. Emergence has been slow due to cold, wet soil,” Chuck Kyle said.
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Cold and wet weather exacerbates the challenges of running a farm in spring. Crops may not get planted; those that are planted may not yield well. Several Cayuga County farms that were able to harvest a first cutting of hay to feed cattle reported yields off by as much as 50 percent and poor feed quality. Farmers have not been able to put livestock on pasture to graze, as muddy conditions mean fields are easily trampled. Many farms have not been able to apply manure to fields that are too saturated to absorb nutrients.
“Mentally, this is wearing everybody down. You want to be out there, putting crops in the ground,” Patterson said.
Farmers are not new to working at the mercy of weather and were quick to acknowledge the patience and support of those who live and drive near farms.
“We are working later hours than we would like to be working. We want people to know we appreciate their understanding with the late hours that we have equipment running,” Patterson said.
Farm employees, some year-round and some seasonal, are working long stretches whenever a day or two of favorable weather occurs.
“This weather means we run longer hours when we can go. Our farmworkers have to work variable hours and I really appreciate that they are doing that for me,” Kyle said.
Some Cayuga County farmers will not be able to plant all their anticipated crops this season; some buy insurance to protect against such financial losses.
“Insurance covers some of the loss, but it doesn’t make up for all the losses. We are going to have a lower profit,” Kyle said.
With deadlines looming for crop insurance claims, as well as the number of planting days required for a successful crop, the next few weeks will be crucial for area farms.
“We will have some prevented planted (insurance) claims, but we are going to keep trying to plant until it’s too late,” Kyle said.