If farming was a football game, then we are at the beginning of the fourth quarter, three touchdowns behind, and time is running out.
The opposing team, weather, has made it a tough game. However, there is still time to finish strong and in some fields, maybe even win.
Farmers had a lot of optimism at the beginning of the season. The warmer and drier late April allowed them to get an early start with corn planting. They knew that research has shown earlier-planted crops generally have larger yields.
However, heavy rains at the end of April followed by cooler temperatures crusted the soil surface, forming a seal over the tender crop that was trying to emerge. Farmers tried to break this seal by using rotary hoes.
A rotary hoe is a tillage implement consisting of a row of wheels with fingerlike prongs around each wheel. The idea is for the tool to loosen the soil surface without digging up or damaging the seedlings trapped below the surface.
In many situations, even with the rotary hoe, surviving plant populations were too low for optimal yields. Farmers tried to replant these fields, but the weather would not cooperate in May. The limited number of dry days for field operations delayed corn replanting and soybean planting until the end of May.
Most soybean fields were planted at the end of May and the first part of June. Farmers also planted the remaining cornfields at this time; some were replants.
In June, some rain events in Hancock County were several inches at a time, causing localized flooding in fields. Then the big rain hit in the middle of July.
First it was the flash flooding that damaged fields near drainage ditches and streams. Some of these same fields were damaged even more by the main flood that followed as creeks and the Blanchard River overflowed.
Unfortunately, smaller rain events continued off and on for the next few weeks and some fields were not able to completely dry until recently. The saturated soils affected soybeans the most, causing leaves to yellow and stunting of plants.
There is some good news. Conditions were excellent for corn pollination — adequate moisture and moderate temperatures. Last year, hot temperatures and drought-like conditions caused poor pollination and poor ear development in many fields.
The April-planted corn that has not been damaged by water has a chance for excellent yields. Unfortunately, many fields have large areas damaged by excessive water, as seen by stunted and yellow plants. Thus the county corn yield may be an average year, but little of the corn will be average — either fields are very good or very poor.
Soybeans were affected more by the flooding and waterlogged soils than corn because of plant development at the time. Plants were shorter than corn and soybeans cannot tolerate being submerged, or having the soil surface covered by water for long periods of time.
These areas are evident at this time by dead soybean plants or severely stunted and weakened plants. The weakened plants may produce a few pods but most will have none.
The remaining plants have begun to recover with the drier conditions of the past 10 days. Unlike corn, soybean plants can produce new growth, which can still produce new flowers in August.
Fields that have healthy plants can still produce a good yield. Soybeans can also produce good yields at lower plant populations than corn.
Plant height is not an indicator for yield in soybeans. Plants may have shortened internodes, but the number of nodes is what counts as a yield component. Nodes are the regions along the stem that produce new leaves, branches and flowers. The internode is the space between nodes.
Timely rains during August generally determine the upper yield limits in soybeans. Many soybean fields are currently at the critical stage of pod-fill and bean development. Ideally, farmers would like to see a half-inch to an inch of rain about every seven to 10 days for the rest of month. However, we don’t need gushers of 3-4 inches at a time.
The high point so far this growing season has been the wheat yields. Yields were not as large as last year, but last year was an exceptional year. However, yields were still strong this year, with many fields between 90 and 100 bushels per acre.
In addition, the quality was excellent.
Larger yields may be attributed to timely harvest and low disease pressure. Most farmers had fields harvested before the heavy rains arrived the week of July 9. Wheat had very little disease, since cool temperatures prior to flowering kept spores of fusarium head scab at low levels during the potential infection period.
Wheat yields may have been slightly lower this year compared to last because of the number of days in June that temperatures were over 90 degrees. The heat shortened the grain-fill period but did allow an early harvest.
Farmers may have trouble planting wheat this fall because of a later soybean harvest, a result of soybeans being planted about a month later than normal. Since wheat generally follows soybeans, wheat planting will not occur until the beans are off. Ideally, wheat should be planted before Oct. 5.
Once again, the weather has been a major factor affecting crops. Some fields still have the potential for good yields. It will depend on the weather. By the time the Buckeyes play their first game, we should have an idea whether farmers have successfully turned their game around in the fourth quarter.
Lentz is extension educator for agriculture and natural resources for the Ohio State University Extension Service in Hancock County. He can be reached at 419-422-3851 or via email at lentz.38@osu.edu.
Lentz can be heard with Vaun Wickerham on weekdays at 6:35 a.m. on WFIN, at 5:43 a.m. on WKXA-FM, and at 5:28 a.m. at 106.3 The Fox.