Rains wreak havoc on local farms

SIDNEY — “Water, water everywhere.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge could have been writing about Shelby County farms today instead of the “great Pacific Ocean” in 1834. Local fields have been drenched by heavy rains this month and the weather is starting to take its toll.

Shelby County Farm Service Agency Executive Director Latham Farley estimates that as much as $5 million in corn and $5 million in soybeans could be lost by the end of the season here. Some of that loss is due to crops that have been washed away. Some will be due to disease and stunted root systems that will result from so much water soaking the soil. And some comes from fields will never be planted this year, because they are too wet to get into.

“It’s never been dry this spring. There’s some folks that have substantial acres yet to do,” said Tony Bornhorst, of Fort Loramie.

“We wouldn’t be able to know until later in the growing season what kind of yield loss we’re dealing with,” Farley told the Sidney Daily News Thursday. He met recently with representatives of other concerned agencies to assess damage for a report to state and federal officials. The information could be used in Columbus and Washington to determine whether Shelby County qualifies as a disaster area.

“We have 2,400 farms and 1,050 operations,” he said. “We could not determine that any had a 50 percent or more loss, and we couldn’t find any damaged structures. There are conservation structures (such as waterways and irrigation ditches) that will need repair,” Farley said.

There are a couple of reasons why it’s too early to tell how much crop damage the county will sustain. For one thing, the rains are not yet over. For another, some farmers hope to be able to replant fields in which their initial plantings have been lost. A successful second planting would mitigate some of the loss.

“My brother and I, we’ve lost close to 40 acres of crops,” said Bornhorst, Wednesday. That’s about 5 percent of their farms in McClain, Cynthian and Loramie townships. The loss is in beans whose roots have become diseased from being underwater. Bornhorst estimated that, if they can’t replant any of those acres, their loss in gross income will be about $16,000.

“That’s only the acres that are drowned out,” he added. “There are others that have definitely had the shine taken off them. The root systems are very shallow. The soil is compacted, so it’s difficult for them to push roots down very far.”

Art Ayers, of Houston, has 800 acres in corn, soybeans and alfalfa. He, too, is concerned about roots.

“We’ve had so much rain, the crops haven’t had to reach down for moisture. When it does get dry, they won’t have the root system to reach down to where the water is,” he said.

Ayers has lost about 20 acres of crops, representing a gross loss of about $600 per acre.

“The biggest concern is what the disease factor is going to be on corn, soybeans and wheat,” he said. Bornhorst agrees.

“It’s been so waterlogged, the corn isn’t uptaking nitrogen because the roots can’t get oxygen,” he said. “The beans are very uneven. They’re not coming up and the weeds are getting bigger.”

It’s not just the corn and soybean producers who are having problems.

“It’s tough to make hay. The fields are so soft you don’t want to track up the alfalfa fields,” Ayers said.

In addition to the loss of yield, farmers have lost the money they’ve spent to plant the fields that have been ruined. And it will cost them to clean up once the precipitation stops. In many places around the county, rushing water and runoff have washed last year’s corn stalks into neighboring fields, waterways and culverts.

“(The stalks) are plugging up culverts and people are trying to clean them up,” Farley said. Farmers who have contracts with the FSA for waterways will have FSA help in cleaning out corn stalks and other debris and in directing and slowing the runoff.

“(There are) stream bank erosion-control measures that need to be taken. We’ll probably have to put in some rock chutes to slow water down,” Farley said. If tiling has broken, farmers will have to cover that replacement cost, themselves.

More rain is in the forecast for the rest of the month and into early July, so there may be but little relief in sight for beleaguered producers.

But the area is a long way from setting a record for the most June rain.

According to meteorologist Allen Randall, with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, this month so far ranks as the 22nd wettest June since records have been kept beginning in 1893. The wettest was in 1958, when 10.89 inches of water fell from the sky on the Dayton area, of which Shelby County is a part. The most in more recent memory was 6.63 inches in 2008. From June 1 to June 25 this year, 5.71 inches have fallen, but the month isn’t over yet.

“We’re going to jump up. We could add another inch or so (by June 30),” Randall said, “but I hope we don’t set a record. That would mean getting as much more as we’ve (already) had during the next four days.”

Ayers looks at the positive side of the situation. The rain has given him lots of time to work on his house. He’s redoing his garage, two bathrooms and the kitchen.

“You have to laugh about it,” he said. “You have to stay positive the whole time. You have to enjoy farming or don’t get into it. There are too many ups and downs. If you can’t stay positive, don’t get into farming.”

While Bornhorst fears that once the rains stop, a late summer drought may set in, Ayers takes a philosophical view of the process:

“I’ve always said: the good Lord has always given me a planting date,” he said. “If He wants to have a harvest, we’ll have a harvest. The farmer plants it. The good Lord takes over from there. All a farmer is is a caretaker of God’s world. It’s all under His control.”