Farmers hope a cool, soggy spring will lead to a somewhat drier, warmer summer.
“This year’s spring definitely was cooler than last year,” Jerry Troyer, who operates a farm in West Mead Township, said in a recent interview at the Market House in Meadville.
“We were about five weeks behind (in terms of getting crops like corn planted),” he said. “We’re getting there. But the wet weather has been good for the greens — things like lettuce and spinach.”
Nathan Held, who farms with his father, Peter, near Cambridge Springs, said there has been one benefit to a soil-soaked spring.
“It means we don’t have to water,” he said with a smile.
The Helds’ farm, too, is reporting good crops of greens including asparagus.
However, a cucumber blight — possibly due to excess water — hit the farm’s cucumber crop and spread, wiping out its cucumbers, he said.
Tom Swift, a farmer near Venango, said the cold, wet spring did hurt his carrot, peas and beet crops as well as strawberries.
“Frost happened,” he said. “We had a couple of nights were it was down to 16 degrees. It was hard on the strawberries.”
The strawberry plants that survived have produced good-quality berries, but the yield is down due to the weather.
Joel Hunter, the agronomist for northwestern Pennsylvania with the Penn State University’s Extension Service, said farmers are starting to make up for time lost in May due to the cooler, rainy days.
“Right now, there’s little to be planted yet,” he said. “Farmers are only a little bit behind in planting.”
Wet weather and cooler temperatures did delay planting activities for corn — one of the county’s major crops, Hunter said.
In general, corn should be planted when soil temperatures are near 50 degrees Fahrenheit and normally can be planted 10 to 14 days before the average date of the last killing frost of the spring, according to Hunter. Soil temperatures in northwestern Pennsylvania usually reach 50 degree around May 1.
Seed will absorb about 30 percent of its weight in water, and temperature doesn’t affect this process much, but root and shoot growth of corn is tied to soil temperature, he said.
In cold soil conditions — where the temperature is below 50 degrees — seeds absorb water but don’t initiate root or shoot growth. That leads to seed rot and poor shoot emergence if the seedbed conditions are prolonged. Cool, wet conditions also make the seedlings prone to infection by a number of fungi that cause seedling disease that may damage or kill the plant, according to Hunter.
“We had some showers and cold nights from the middle to the end of May,” he said. “It was wet and we did have some frost, but it wasn’t significant to burn early corn that’s come up.”
Hunter’s not had many reports of washouts of crops due to excess rainfall this spring.
“It’s really too early to forecast what will happen,” he said of this year’s corn crop, as it’s still spring. Summer doesn’t officially begin until June 21 and corn requires warm temperatures that come with the season.
Troyer’s seen “too much water” at his farm, but is thankful he’s not lost any crops so far.
“I just hope it all turns out,” he said.
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.