BENTON HARBOR — Officials from the Michigan State University Extension office rained a bit on the parade of the Berrien County Board of Commissioners Thursday, reporting that farmers are suffering from wet weather and soggy fields.
Bruce MacKellar, a field crops educator, told commissioners, meeting at the extension office in Benton Harbor, that rainfall in April and May ranged between 10 and 11.5 inches, compared to the normal precipitation of 5.75 inches in the area.
That kept farmers from planting such crops as corn and soybeans, he said. Thunderstorms in late May and early June kept growers with heavy soils out of their fields.
These conditions have been accompanied by a pattern of more moisture outside of the growing season, in late fall and late winter, that leaves the ground saturated and unable to absorb spring rains.
Last week the area saw between a half-inch and three-quarters of an inch of rain on already soaked fields, MacKellar said.
The result has been that Michigan farmers are 40 percent behind in planting corn, and 30 behind planting soybeans. Other states, including Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, are even further behind.
Many fields were tilled in early May, when conditions were better, MacKellar said, but since that time there hasn’t been much opportunity for planting, and weeds and cattails are taking over in some places.
Time is running out to have a full growing season. After June 1, the potential grain yield loss per acre for corn is 2.1 bushels, and a quarter-bushel for soybeans. MacKellar showed.
Even crop insurance is at risk of going under. Wednesday was the last day to plant corn for full crop insurance coverage. There is a 1 percent reduction in payments for every day past that deadline.
What farmers need is warm temperatures that will allow the crop to come out of the ground and reach maturity, MacKellar said. Last year’s hot summer allowed the corn crop to catch up after a wet spring.
With late planting, the risk is that crops will get hit by frost before they can be harvested.
Recommendations for dealing with continuing wet conditions include switching to corn and soybean strains that mature faster, and planting crops that don’t require tilling the soil, such as young soybeans that are protected by the residue of a wheat crop.
Tillage has been “a bottleneck” for farmers the last couple of years, MacKellar said.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom at the board session. Julie Pioch, MSU Extension director, reported on the many activities at the research center launched 30 years ago.
The center sits on about 350 acres along Hillendale Road, with about two-thirds is use at a given time for around 40 to 50 agricultural projects. The location is a magnet for researchers from around the country, staff said.
The office also participates in such youth projects as 4-H, and is adding two outreach people to get more kids involved. They also take part in health and nutrition programs.
Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak