Farmers in Medina County and throughout much of Ohio are being hit by drought conditions not seen in nearly 25 years.
But the situation in Ohio is not as bad as found in the Midwestern corn-belt states.
And Medina County isn’t as hard hit as some other parts of the state.
That’s the assessment of local and state agricultural experts.
Ohio’s mild winter, record-high summer temperatures and minimal rainfall are reminiscent of 1988 — the last severe drought in the U.S., the experts said.
But while lack of rainfall this summer is a “significant” problem across much of the nation, the worst conditions are in states west of Ohio, according to Rory Lewandowski, an agriculture educator with Ohio State University’s Extension Office in Wooster.
“Indiana and Illinois are suffering much greater crop losses than Ohio,” he said.
Lewandowski said sporadic rain in parts of the state — like those Medina County saw Friday and Saturday — has kept many crops from dying off.
“Some crops look OK because of pop-up showers here and there,” he said.
John Fitzpatrick, director of the Medina County Farm Bureau, agreed the drought conditions aren’t the same across the state.
“Medina is better off than western Ohio, but not much,” Fitzpatrick said. “The last time I saw it this severe around here was 1988.”
Farmer Steve Arters, who grows field corn, soybeans and hay on nearly 1,200 acres in Chatham Township, said a critical time for raising crops comes in the next two weeks.
“We’ve got a two-week window to make or break on soybeans,” said Arters, who’s been farming for 35 years on his family farm at 6007 Avon Lake Road.
Arters, who planted 650 acres of soybean, said plants that usually produce 40 to 50 pods a season are producing only about 25 pods this year.
Fitzpatrick agreed the next two weeks will determine the fate of the crop.
“We’re at a crucial point,” he said. “There’s been only a partial forming of pods for soybeans and ears of corn, and now is a key time for that development. If this continues, we’ll see a significant reduction in yields.”
Expect less hay
Arters said hay is the crop most impacted by a lack of rainfall. He said an average year of three to four cuttings between May 1 and Oct. 1 is not expected.
“We’re going to need 3 to 4 inches of rain in a week’s time to get our hay going,” Arters said. “Right now, it looks like we’ll be getting two or three cuttings, if that.”
An average cutting of hay produces about a ton per acre, Arters said. If the drought conditions continue, cuts two and three will be about 80 percent less than normal.
“I’ve never seen it as dry as this,” Arters added.
Corn in trouble
Arters said the drought has affected his timing of harvesting 500 acres of corn.
“We should have been getting corn a month ago, and we’re not,” he said. “You need about an inch of rain a week to produce good corn, and we’re getting maybe one, two inches a month since spring.”
Cornstalks tend to weaken without proper moisture. Weak stalks can blow over in the wind, causing a lack of production or killing the crop entirely, Arters said.
“We’ve seen some cornstalks that don’t even have ears,” he said.
An acre of farmland typically produces about 150 bushels of corn. This year, he expects between 75 and 120 bushels.
“If there’s no real rain in the next two weeks, we’ll be in real trouble,” Arters said. “These 90-degree days are just cooking everything we’ve got planted.”
Arters said he expects to see a hike in food costs at grocery stores by this winter if steady rainfall does not come soon.
Governor gets involved
In response to the drought, Gov. John Kasich last week signed an executive order aimed at helping farmers.
As part of the order, the state will ask the U.S. Agriculture Department to declare a drought emergency in Ohio, which would open up federal assistance for farmers, mostly for loans to cover crop losses, as well as permission to cut hay from land marked for conservation.
Kasich’s order also enables farmers to cut hay from highway right-of-ways adjacent to their properties “without inconveniencing the traveling public.”
It also directs the Ohio Department of Agriculture to help farmers mitigate drought damage in a number of other ways, such as developing a website that tracks hay availability.
“Farmers are the foundation of Ohio’s $105 billion food and agriculture industry and taking steps to help them through this hot, dry weather is essential to their survival,” Kasich said. “We need to be taking the right steps so they don’t suffer devastating losses or aren’t forced to abandon their fields or herds.
“It’s in all Ohioans’ best interests for our hard-hit farmers to be able to come back next year and these measures can help make that happen.”
For more information about the Ohio drought, visit the OSU Wayne County Extension Office website, www.wayne.osu.edu.
Contact Steve Grazier at (330) 721-4012 or firstname.lastname@example.org.