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Local farmers trying to stay afloat amid record rain

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    Steve Morlock shows his son Chase, 12, the coloration of the leaves on planted soy beans Friday afternoon while holding daughter Ella, 9 months.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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    Steve Morlock shows the coloration of the leaves on the planted soy beans on Friday afternoon, June 14. Morlock said the yellow coloration could indicate that the plants are receiving too much water, and may be experiencing root rot.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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Three brothers stand at the edge of a soybean field; their footprints make muddy indents in the wet ground. This season, the rain has delayed their planting and given them low expectations for a full yield come harvest time.

David, Steve and Bill Morlock own a farm in Columbia Station. The farm started in 1923 and passed down through the generations. This year has been the worst the brothers have seen for weather since they took it over.

It’s the wettest year on record in the nation, with many counties in Ohio seeing record or above-average rainfall, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

At the Morlock farm, they have 50 acres of corn and 160 acres of soybeans, plus some acreage for hay. Steve said they planted all the corn by Memorial Day, but they usually like to be planted by early May. They have 75 acres of soybeans left to plant, but only a couple weeks left to get it done.

They were the lucky ones. Steve said some neighboring farms have less than half of the corn planted, and one hasn’t been able to plant any seeds yet.

In fields across Lorain County, growing stalks of corn are flooded with water, drowning the young plants. Much of that corn would be used to feed livestock and a shortage could create problems for livestock farmers later on. Some of it also is used for biodiesel fuel, which could create a shortage there.

Ty Higgins, director of media relations for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, said farming seasons have been tracked since the 1970s and this is the worst they’ve ever seen. Statewide, 50 percent of corn and 32 percent of soybeans are planted as of Monday, compared with 96 percent of corn planted this time last year. Higgins said the numbers are about the same for Lorain County.

June 5 was the last recommended day to plant corn and now that that season is passed, farmers are left with only a couple options to recoup the unplanted corn. They could submit a prevent plant claim with their crop insurance and not plant in the empty field. For corn, farmers would receive 55 percent of their annual production history and for soybeans, they would receive 60 percent.

The other option for the unplanted cornfields is to instead plant them with soybeans. But the latest they could plant is July 1, and Higgins said that doesn’t leave the beans a lot of time to grow. The recommended plant date for soybeans is June 20.

Steve said they’ll give it about a couple more weeks for their beans, but it still depends on the weather, which doesn’t look too hopeful.

He said too much beyond that and the plants won’t have time to mature. The late-planted corn also is creating higher prices in the markets, with the cost of corn up about 2 percent Thursday. Steve said the later they plant, the potential for a full yield is small.

And the problems don’t stop once the fields are planted.

Steve said that with a week of good weather and sunshine, their fields might be okay. He and David noticed some yellow at the bottom of some sprouting soybean plants. That could mean root rot, where the root rots because the soil becomes too saturated with water.

Too much water also can suffocate planted seeds and prevent them from growing at all. And where cornfields would be about chest-high on an average height by July 4, they are just small stubs sprouting out of the ground.

With the consistent rain, the soil is not dry enough to spray the fields either, particularly cornfields, which perform better when nitrogen is sprayed on them. The equipment will get stuck in the wet ground.

Chadi Saadeh runs Chadi Farms, where he grows vegetables, like eggplants, tomatoes and parsley, and sells them to restaurants. He said this year, the quality of what produce he can plant is lower.

With all the rain, he said it’s hard to plow in the mud, and they haven’t planted in their big plot. Right now, they have to plant in little plots of land at a time, but they only have about two more weeks left for planting.

“I’m so mad this year,” Saadeh said. “... but I want to try. We’re throwing things at the wall, hoping it’ll work.”

He’s not sure if he’ll be able to make much money this season, and the summer is short in Ohio, particularly compared with Syria, which is where he’s from.

The Midwest has had a wet planting season overall, but Higgins said Ohio is lagging behind almost everyone else. Other regions of the state have performed somewhat better, particularly in the southern region of the state.

That area has a more conducive climate, and the soil is a bit more forgiving, Higgins said. It tends to be a bit more gravely, allowing the soil to absorb the rain better.

The Ohio Farm Bureau is trying to find some legislative solutions to the damaging year for farmers. They spoke with the Ohio Department of Agriculture and Gov. Mike DeWine’s staff about making a disaster declaration so that farmers could get some funds.

On Friday, DeWine requested that the United States Department of Agriculture make the disaster declaration for Ohio farmers, which would free up those funds.

The farm bureau also co-signed a letter with other organizations to Sonny Perdue, the United States Secretary of Agriculture, to ask the department to ease up on some regulations for a temporary time period.

The letter asked Perdue to allow planting, normal harvest and grazing of forage crops on prevent plant acreage for 2019 without penalty and without date restrictions. Right now, for insurance purposes, farmers are not allowed to plant a harvestable crop if they want a preventive plant check.

It asked for a one-time allowance because of the rain and tough planting season Ohio farmers have seen.

The Morlock brothers have stayed optimistic with good-nature. Steve said the yield probably will not be as good this year, but “surely the rain will stop soon,” he laughed. They have other jobs outside of farming and sympathized for farmers who have a livelihood in their crops.

“In farming,” Bill said, “it’s always a gamble. Always a gamble.”

Contact Laina Yost at (440) 329-7121 or lyost@chroniclet.com.


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