WEST LIBERTY – Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Dorothy Pelanda informed farmers about new disaster recovery funding available to help them plant cover crops during a visit to Logan County on Friday.
Pelanda visited Henry Farms near West Liberty to meet with farmers and inspect fields that have been damaged by unusually high rainfall totals this year. Wet and flooded fields have hurt farmers across the entire state, she said, prompting the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to invest $4 million to help Ohio farmers recover.
“This program will allow Mr. Henry and others to actually plant corn on fields that they’ve already taken advantage of a prevent plant so that they can start getting silage for their animals, et cetera,” Pelanda said. “We recognize that farmers earlier made a decision not to plant and now need an opportunity to use those acres for silage.”
Doug Henry, owner of Henry Farms, plans to plant corn as a cover crop because of the new financial assistance. Corn planted this late won’t be marketable, he said, but it will offer feed for his livestock.
“It won’t be that great of feed,” Henry said. “It won’t have a lot of corn on the cob, but it will make feed for young livestock.”
Along with providing farmers will silage, encouraging cover crop plantings should improve water quality and soil health, prevent soil erosion and suppress weeds.
However, some farmers worried that wet fields will prevent them from even planting cover crops.
“After glancing through records and listening to others, quite honestly I’m not sure we’ve seen a wetter planting season than that of 2019,” Logan County Commissioner Joe Antram said. “And the crisis stretches throughout the whole nation’s corn belt, not just Logan County. The ramifications go beyond the economic hardship that Logan County’s agricultural community faces. The consequences will be long term regarding family farm finances, soil erosion and soil fertility.
“There are a lot of farmers that are full-timers that they’re really hurting. I’m really, really worried that they’re not going to be able to maintain their livelihood in the conditions that we’re having right now.”
Pelanda also anticipates the Legislature finishing the state’s budget soon and providing clarity on how much money will be available from the state to assist farmers.
“On Monday I’ll have a much more clearer picture of what monies have been dedicated immediately to the Department of Agriculture for immediate distribution to Ohio farmers,” she said.
The state needs to make decisions soon so farmers can decide how they’re going to proceed, said Jill Smith, Ohio Farm Bureau organization director for Auglaize, Logan, Mercer and Shelby counties.
“Farmers are dealing with these decisions today, but the decisions that go above them need to be made very quickly because they’re deciding today whether they’re going to finish planting, they’re going to do prevent plant, they’re going to do what,” she said. “And we’ve got some great weather right now that we could have used about a month ago, but the decisions need to be fast.”
Knowing that actions from the government tend to happen slowly, Henry appreciated the decision on cover crops being made this week.
“It’s nice that it came out early enough to even be possible (to plant),” he said. “Those wheels turn so slow that we figured that any window to do anything like that wouldn’t happen.”
The 2019 planting season has been the most stressful Henry has ever encountered, he said, as the amount of rain has made planning difficult.
“We had some beans that needed to be replanted,” Henry said. “It’s late enough that it’s hard to decide is it economic to replant a bean this late. Some others that we planted we abandoned this morning. We decided we’re not going to do those acres. So you’re just constantly making decisions that aren’t normal decisions.”
Other farmers are facing the same dilemmas as Henry, wondering whether they should plant or seek insurance payments.
“Someone in Darke County said to me, ‘You know, Dorothy, farmers who are smart businessmen have turned into gamblers. They look out on a day like today, and they gamble. Do I plant or do I not plant?’” Pelanda said.
“Another farmer said to me last week, ‘Dorothy, the pebble has not even dropped in the pond. We have not even begun to see the ripple effect of all of this – the soil erosion, the water erosion, things that are going to take years for our agricultural industry to recover from.’”
Along with the uncertainty of this planting season is the uncertainty of what lies ahead in future years, Pelanda said.
“Is this an anomaly or is this the beginning of what we’re going to see every single year? We don’t know,” she said. “But we’re trying to be proactive and looking ahead to see what we can do to help farmers across the state and to understand that this is not unique to one part of Ohio. This is everywhere.”
Pelanda and Gov. Mike DeWine have visited farms across the state the past three weeks. Hearing stories from the people who have been affected is more impactful than just looking at data and statistics, Pelanda said, and can help officials plan for issues that could arise in the future.
“We’re certainly going to learn a lot this year,” she said. “I think we need to be proactive in thinking about next year. No one knows. The most important thing are the conversations we’re having with the people who are living this every day. We’re learning together.”
To apply for financial assistance, farmers should visit a USDA Service Center. Funding is available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Reach this writer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-538-4824.