Rain delay: Super soggy spring puts planting at a standstill

| Wednesday, April 27, 2011

This year's soggy spring means local farmers can't plant crops when they need to, and ultimately, April showers could decrease the amount crops will produce.

For some, it's turning into one of the worst springs for planting in memory.

"We need a sunny, windy day to dry the ground out," said Doris Myers, who farms Myers Pickle Farm in Gilpin with her husband, Ralph. "Whenever the ground starts to get dry, why it's raining again, and you can't work up wet ground."

So far this month, 4.9 inches of rain have fallen, according to National Weather Service data recorded at the Pittsburgh International Airport. That's 2.3 inches more than normal.

Since the beginning of 2011, just more than 17 inches of precipitation have been recorded, 6.4 inches more than normal.

The Myers plant wheat, oats, field corn, sweet corn and other vegetables on their 443-acre farm.

"Oats should be planted in April, or you lose your yield per acre," she said. "The later you plant it, the less of the yield you get because it gets too hot for it and it doesn't do well."

Oats like cold, wet weather, she said. If they had been planted already, they'd be growing well, but planting has been impossible.

Wheat that was planted last fall is growing well, she said. Gourds and pumpkins will be planted in the end of May.

To Harold Foertsch, of Har-Lo Farms in Jefferson Township, the spring weather is "terrible."

He raises potatoes, corn for grain, soybeans, hay, wheat, oats and cattle, farming 1,250 acres, about 100 of them his own.

"We can't do anything," he said. "We're just sort of sitting still."

Oats should have been planted within the past two weeks, he said, but hardly any have been planted countywide. Corn should be planted around May 1. Soybeans come after that, from the first of May until mid-June.

Foertsch turns 73 today and said he's been farming since he was able to crawl in the dirt. To date, it's one of the soggiest springs he can remember with snow almost every day in the winter, then rain almost every day in the spring.

But he cautions: Don't panic yet.

"Don't get excited yet," he said. "It's only the end of April."

Ed Goldscheitter, who farms Goldscheitter Dairy Farm along with his son Bill, said it will be a while before the ground is dry enough to plant.

"Everything is at a standstill right now. We usually try to get some corn planted in April," he said. "It's really putting us back two or three weeks. And usually (with) a late season, you don't get as good of a yield."

Field corn is the farm's main crop, but soy beans and alfalfa also are harvested. The 650-acre farm is home to about 180 cows, 138 of which produce milk.

Ideally, South Buffalo farmer Dan Patton said, some of this rain would wait until July and August to fall. He grows corn and hay to feed about 60 milk cows.

"We're not pushing the panic button yet," Patton said. "But everybody's in the same boat.

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