Continuing rains cause farmers problems that will mount

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Waterlogged planting season has farmers, gardeners struggling to get their crops going.

By Todd Martin

Severe weather has kept Kentuckians running for basements all spring, but blown down trees and barns and damaged homes aren't the only problems they're facing.

Farmers across the county have been battling damp soil and standing water as they try to find time to get crops in the ground.

"The trouble is, we just need some dry days," said Bill Gallrein, whose Gallrein Farms operation had to cancel its you-pick strawberry options because of the weather. "We've gotten a lot of things planted, like our sweet corn and some others, on time, but getting the hay cut and the soybeans planted has been delayed."

Brett Reese, the Shelby County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, said he believes the county's farmers have gotten in about 75 percent of their corn, but continued wet weather is still causing problems.

"Obviously, we'd like to have everything in the ground by now," he said. "What we're getting into now is crop insurance being affected. If corn is not in the ground by May 31-June 1, then it won't be covered by insurance."

And although that corn that is in the ground is covered, it's still too early to know how those seeds will work.

"That's corn planted the first time," Reese said. "We don't know yet if it will have to be replanted."

Gallrein said his crops seem to fine, so far.

"Everything is germinating and growing," he said. "But it's hard to tell so far. We'll know more as the season goes on."

The wet soil not only has kept farmers out of the fields, but it has also been detrimental to the plants that aren't even out there yet.

"We're probably going to see some disease problems with tobacco because a lot of it's been in the greenhouse too long," Reese said. "Although the crop insurance for that doesn't kick in until July 1, so they're in a little better shape."

Home gardeners

And it’s not just the large-scale farms that have been affected by all the rain.

"If…if they already have stuff in the ground, people with home gardens are going to face a lot of disease pressures," Reese said. "They're going to have to spray or lose product, where they could have gone organic in other years.

“And the heavy winds we've had with a lot of these storms will snap a lot of young plants."

Gallrein said sales of flowers and vegetables seem to be off a little at his farm’s greenhouse store.

"People seem discouraged because of the rain," he said. "People that have come out and gotten stuff have been successful, but I think a lot of people have been holding off because of the weather."

And that's a good idea, both Reese and Gallrein said.

"The worst thing you can do is work on wet ground," Gallrein said. "You just need to let it dry out a little, and then just go for it."

Reese said those empty home gardens are in the best shape now.

"You're better off with nothing in there right now," he said. "It'll just be a later harvest than normal, but if it's just for personal use you can do that."

But that brings it's own set of problems.

"But when you wait, that brings in bug problems," Reese said.

The outlook

With the U.S. already facing low levels of corn and grain storage, this extremely wet spring hasn't helped.

"With all the flooding along the Mississippi River there are a lot of corn and grain crops not even being planted this year," Reese said. "Prices are projected to go through the roof. And, depending on which side you're on, that could be good or bad."

Reese said farmers could maintain profits with lower yields, but "it won't be good for your grocery bills."

Doug Burkett, with the Shelby County Farmer's Market, said it's too early to tell what will happen there this summer.

"It hasn't affected us too much yet, but if it keeps raining like it has been, I'm sure people will have trouble," he said. "But we also offer a lot of other products, like fresh local honey, cut flowers and handmade soaps. And so far the carrots and lettuces have been good."

Gallrein said continued severe weather, wet or dry, could cause even more problems.

"We've had so much rain, and it's come down so fast that it's really compacted the ground," he said. "If we can continue to get rain through the summer, but in a more normal pattern, we'll be fine. But it's going to be very difficult if it just gets hot and dry."

But around here farmers are getting used to dealing with weather issues.

"We haven't had ideal weather for about 8 to 10 years now," said Reese.

Added Gallrein: "Normal weather is just the average of extremes, and we're having one now. It'll work out, we just don't know how yet."