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Ohio Farms Rush to Plant Crops After Severe Weather, Struggle to Stay on Track

Photo of Bret Davis
Bret Davis in one of his corn fields. He worries this years slow start could put a ceiling on yields.

Farmers in Ohio and many other parts of the country are rushing to get their crops planted after a long, wet spring. The late start means many acres intended for corn won’t get planted, and farmers are running far behind on soy beans as well. WOSU's Nick Evans visited a few farms throughout Central Ohio to see how farmers are trying to get back on track.

The last time I visited Bret Davis’ farm in Delaware County, I was asking him about a program helping farmers bit by the trade war.  It was raining then, and it was wet when I spoke to him this week, too.

“It was terrible yesterday. It’s the worst conditions I’ve planted in, I mean, I shouldn’t have been there, I really shouldn’t have.”

Davis and his team were out past 1 a.m. the night before trying to get seeds planted ahead of more rain. He’s two thirds done with corn, and about a third of the way through his soybeans. He’s still pretty optimistic they’ll be able to make up for lost time, but Davis is realistic about this year’s crop.

“A corn plant and a soybean plant is nothing but a solar panel. It takes every bit of sunlight it can and the nutrients to make what it does, and when we’re a month behind, you’ve cut a month of growing out of a season that’s fairly short to start with.”

Photo of a soybean plant
Recently-sprouted soybeans on a farm in Central Ohio.

The USDA’s latest crop progress report paints a stark portrait. Ohio’s farmers have only planted a fifth of their acreage intended for soybeans. Last year they’d completed 80 percent by now. Farmers are further along with corn—planting slightly more than a third of what they did last year. But they’ve also passed the cut off for federal crop insurance. Anything they plant after June fifth gets steadily less coverage.

“We have that field left to go—we will probably plant past the deadline.”

A few miles away, Ryan Rhoades is trying to sew up the last of his planting. 

“Let’s see, we put nearly 300 acres in in the past two days you know that would’ve been Tuesday and Wednesday so we really made a big push on some ground that maybe we shouldn’t have but the acres are planted and we’ll see what happens with germination.”

The late start on planting is only contributing to an already stressful situation. In addition to the ongoing trade war, a report from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or FDIC, shows an uptick in people falling behind on farm loan payments. But Brian Ricker, CEO of the lending co-op AgCredit, isn’t raising alarms just yet.

Photo of Bret Davis
Bret Davis says conditions have been terrible for planting crops.

“We haven’t seen that quite as much within our portfolio.  Our delinquencies are a little higher than what they were a few years ago, but they’re still very, very manageable. And over all the lenders and the banks and the farm credit system are very well capitalized.”

It’s been a bit drier south of Columbus on Scott Metzger’s farm, but like Davis and Rhoades, he’s been rushing to catch up.

Photo of Scott Metzger
Scott Metzger

“We started in and had about a, I don’t know, five, six day window to Memorial Day there and ran pretty hard those days and were able to get quite a bit done in that amount of time. So we’re just down to a little bit here left, so we should end of the day can get finished up with what we have.”

Metzger’s farm is done with corn, and they’re finishing up on beans, too. He takes me to the last field, where his cousin Blake is running the planter. Even here there are broad swaths of standing water cutting across the rows.

Photo of Scott Metzger and Blake Metzger
Scott Metzger and his cousin Blake Metzger planning out how to plant their last field.

“This bank you can plant close to the water, that one running through the middle of the field you won’t be able to get as close and on the other side of that you won’t be able to get as close either.”

Despite the late start and the late nights catching up, Metzger, Rhoades and Davis are all thankful to be squeaking in close to the deadline. All three have heard from farmers in Northern Ohio who haven’t even begun planting. Those farmers can get limited compensation through federal crop insurance.  Metzger thinks in the mid-west the number of people prevented from planting claims could reach a record this year.