Sunday, October 22, 2017 Elyria 72°


Flooding pushes back planting season for local farmers


Rain and flooding that has pounded the area this past week has proved a mixed blessing for Miller Orchards in Amherst, where owner Dave Miller grows corn and soybeans as well as cherries, peaches and apples on 400 acres.

“There haven’t been any fields of crops (corn and soybeans) planted yet in this area that I’m aware of,” Miller said Thursday. “They’re going to take several days of drying weather.”

Still, he’s not sweating right now.

“We’re not hurting too bad, yet,” Miller said. “But once we get past the start of June, the chances of fielding good crops decreases dramatically.”

It’s the farm’s fruit crops that tell a much sadder story this year.

“Our cherries are done for, and we’re going to have very few peaches,” Miller said. “The cold weather in January did them in when it was 10 degrees to below zero. They’re hearty, but not that hearty.”

More moderate weather next winter should help produce healthy cherry and peach crops in 2015, Miller said.

Meanwhile, the business’s apple trees are looking good.

“They’re in full bloom right now,” he said.

Drier weather will help, especially as that will allow spraying of fungicides to stave off diseases that could “wreck the fruit,” according to Miller.

The picture has been a lot bleaker — so far — for Ron and Judy Pickworth, whose LaGrange Township farm typically produces abundant corn and soybeans each year.

“We have a variety of corn and soybeans and some hayfields, but we have not gotten anything done yet,” Judy Pickworth said of the couple’s stymied efforts to get crops planted on 200 to 250 acres they farm off Whitehead Road, and at another 50 acres they farm about seven miles farther south.

“It’s getting very late,” Judy Pickworth said, noting most corn should be in the ground by mid-May.

Farmers who count on corn for their livelihood are keeping an eye on their calendars.

Farmers who don’t have their corn in the ground by June 5 could be eligible for insurance payments based on anticipated corn grosses the federal program protects them in years when rain-soaked soil or other difficulties make it impossible to plant in a timely manner.

“They’re talking about rain and then a couple of days of sunshine and more rain,” Judy Pickworth said.

One to two dry weeks are needed to allow planting, she said.

Planting in soil that isn’t dry enough could lead to seeds rotting in the ground, according to Pickworth.

Whether costs will rise on this season’s crops is uncertain, she said.

The spring’s picture is definitely brighter at Sprenger Blueberry Farms in Vermilion, where 400 to 450 blueberry plants are now growing.

“New plants like this very much, contrary to what everyone thinks,” said Mike O’Grady said of the recent soggy weather.

O’Grady works with owner Don Sprenger and another farmer at the five- to six-acre farm off Baumhart Road, where most plants were put in last month.

While the new blueberry plants are OK with all this rain, honeybees are not.

“The bees are just not working right now,” O’Grady said of the lack of cross-pollinating that’s key to producing ample fruit crops.

“They need it to be dry and warm and sunny,” O’Grady said. “When it was 85 to 90 degrees recently, bees were everywhere. They may still be active in their colonies, but they’re just not doing a lot of pollinating.”

To hedge their bets, the blueberry farmers have ordered bumblebees to help with pollination.

“The more times each flower is visited, the higher the number of seeds produced in the fruit, which means bigger berries,” O’Grady said.

O’Grady said he doesn’t foresee costs going up, even if blueberry crops don’t turn out to be plentiful.

Cooler weather forecast for coming days could further dampen the bees’ activity levels.

“We’ll have to wait and see,” O’Grady said. “If it stops raining in the next couple of days, we could get some good pollination. Things can turn around here.”

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or

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