It was a challenging year for agriculture in Hancock County. Weather, regulations and government policy made it tough to be a farmer. I have listed ten events that affected agriculture last year, not in any particular order. If I followed the Courier’s policy of thumbs up or down, the first six would be down and the last four up. Here is my list:
Rain and prevented planting acres
Fields in northwestern Ohio were saturated for most days between Nov. 1, 2018, and June 25, 2019. Wet fields kept farmers from planting until mid-to-late June.
For farmers that had crop insurance, they had the option of not planting and taking an insurance payment if they could not plant by a certain date. Most were unable to plant by the insurance date.
As a result, about 60% of cornfields in the county were not planted and declared as prevented planting. For soybeans, about 25% were not planted and declared as prevented planting.
China’s retaliatory trade tariff
The tariff battles with China have been hurting U.S. agriculture exports for about 18 months. Recently, negotiations have looked promising, but there is no definitive action at this time.
Before the tariff, China was the largest market for U.S. soybeans and many other agricultural products. The result of the tariff halted most of the U.S. soybeans sales to China and caused bean prices to plummet.
Waterhemp continues to spread
Waterhemp continues to get a foothold in more soybean fields across the county. Almost every township has at least one field with a serious waterhemp problem.
Farmers see the consequence of allowing the weeds to go to seed in just one year. One female plant can produce 500,000 seeds. Left unchecked, waterhemp will create a serious infestation that is difficult to control, and may cause a 35-50% yield reduction.
Federal government shutdown
The federal government shut down from Dec. 22, 2018, to Jan. 25, 2019 — the longest shutdown in history. As a result of the shutdown, many federal agricultural agencies — such as the Farm Service Agency — were closed.
These closures delayed farmers getting their operational loans and payments from the Market Facilitation Program (tariff compensation). It delayed the final crop report for 2018 production and inventory, leaving uncertainty in the grain markets. It was April before federal government reports and activities began to recover from the shutdown.
Algae blooms in Lake Erie
A bloom occurred in Lake Erie, but persistent September winds kept the bloom down and it disappeared early in October. The bloom was more severe than 2018 but not as severe as 2011 and 2015.
As a result of the record breaking spring rains, total phosphorus levels reaching the lake from the Maumee watershed were near the 2011 levels. Very little phosphorus had been applied to farmer fields because of the wet conditions, so the phosphorus was not coming from farmers’ fertilizer practices. The phosphorus source is unknown.
Lake Erie Bill of Rights
Last February, Toledo voters passed what is called the Lake Erie Bill of Rights. This bill established rights within the city’s charter for Lake Erie’s ecosystem and the rights to self-government by Toledo for a clean and healthy environment. Basically, the city has the right to sue an entity in the name of Lake Erie.
Environmental activist groups were behind this bill. A farmer, with support of agricultural groups, has sued the city over the bill. The state of Ohio has said that Lake Erie is a state matter and cities have no jurisdiction. At the time, the legality of the bill is still being reviewed by the courts.
Ohio’s governor, with legislative funding, initiated the H2Ohio program. This comprehensive program has been developed to address water quality needs of Ohio. Funds will be available in 2020 for farmers to implement practices to help reduce the potential of phosphorus leaving fields.
The federal government and Ohio legalized the production of hemp. Hemp is in the cannabis family but is very low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the chemical that causes the buzz from marijuana).
Both the federal and Ohio governments are determining guidelines for hemp production. Ohio plans to offer hemp production permits in early 2020. Hemp may be grown for fiber, seed production and cannabidiol (CBD) oil. At this time, CBD oil has the most potential of being profitable for Ohio producers.
Hancock County farmers will finally see the benefit of Ohio legislation that changed the CAUV formula in 2017. This change will lower the assessed land values for those participating in the CAUV program.
Hancock County farmers had to wait for the next assessment in the three-year cycle to benefit from the law change, which was 2019. Farmers should pay lower property taxes in 2020 as a result of changes in the CAUV formulation.
Crop yields were surprisingly good in spite of the late planting. Moderate summer temperatures, adequate and timely rains in late July and August, warmer than normal September and early October, and a delayed killing frost allowed plants to mature.
Overall county yield averages may be inflated since only the best fields were able to be planted this year. Many soybean fields yielded between 50 and 60 bushels. It was not uncommon for some cornfields to yield near 200 bushels. Overall production, however, will be much lower compared to most years because of the reduction in planted acres.
Many of these events and issues will continue to affect farmers in 2020. One cannot predict the season until the harvest — local farmers need a good crop year and better grain prices. Maybe the tariff battles will soon end and soybean prices will rebound. Anything can happen in an election year, particularly a presidential election year.
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 email@example.com