Good news and bad weather means a roller coaster ride for farmers

PHOTO SUBMITTED Eric Nye (right) boats over his drowned crops with friend Marc Roush. Nye and Roush are farmers in both Seneca and Sandusky counties whose fields have been hit hard by the excessive rainfall of the past year. Asked about the sign, Nye said they "wanted to try and get some attention and some help for the disaster.

Eric Nye and his wife, Cary, have been waking up every morning at 4:30 the past few months and asking themselves, “What is there to accomplish today?”

“It’s just awful, being a farmer and waking up every day and not being able to plant,” Nye said.

Eric and Cary Nye farm 900 acres in both Seneca and Sandusky counties, on a family farm passed down over four generations. Eric used to farm the land with his father, who passed away in December. Typically they grow corn and soybeans, but this year’s extreme weather has proven a serious obstacle to their ability to plant.

“I’d drive around in the morning just looking for a dry spot in the fields to plant in, and some of the crop I planted I know I shouldn’t have with the rest of the rain coming, but when a farmer gets up in the morning they want to plant, they certainly don’t want to just sit around and wait for things to happen,” Nye said.

Nye planted 600 acres in spring and had to abandon planting his remaining 300 acres, because they were unable to be used at all due to excessive rainwater.

“In four generations, we’ve never had a year when we didn’t get everything planted. In fact, no one around here can remember a year this bad,” Nye said.

“It is truly a disaster.”

The 600 acres Nye was able to plant in spring were drowned in more rain, and he planted them again. And then they were drowned again.

And then he planted them again, for a third time.

“The issue really trickles down,” Nye said. “Farmers are not going to be buying new equipment or new trucks this year.”

Some farmers, like Nye, carry crop insurance for acres they aren’t able to plant by a certain date in the season. But it doesn’t make all of his problems go away.

“For example, for a field where I intended to plant beans and couldn’t, the insurance payment I’d get is equal to the rent I have to pay the landlord for using the field,” Nye said.

Eric Eberhard also farms in Seneca County, near Bellevue, as part of a partnership with four other farmers in his family operation. His story is something like Nye’s, in that the weather has greatly impacted the way he and his family have had to go about working their fields this season.

“It’s been kind of a rollercoaster ride this year,” he said.

“We weren’t worried about making the prevent plant deadline, because some of us don’t have crop insurance,” he said. “We kept thinking the rain would eventually stop, but of course it just never did.”

Eberhard said a little more than half of his acreage was not planted this season, and he and his partners have had to drastically change their normal routine.

“For certain fields we normally follow a three-year rotation of corn, beans and wheat, but this year we had to switch a lot of the corn we would’ve planted to beans, which threw everything a little off-balance,” he said.

Eberhard said he also planted a lot of cover crops, partly to make hay to feed his cows but also because it’s better for the soil.

“You see a lot of farmers on the fence about using cover crops, but for whatever reason we have a good deal of people in the county that use it, and I think this year will be pivotal in expanding it further.

“I think people realize that if you leave your field bare all summer long, there’s nothing to protect from the harmful aspects of soil biology. And there are some pretty economical options which tend to work pretty easily,” he said.

Eberhard is planting oats as a cover crop, because they’re inexpensive, easy to produce and they don’t survive the winter, so they won’t have to be tended to next spring. He also uses the oats to make hay to feed his cows with.

Nye also said he’s thinking about putting cover crops down on the fields he was unable to plant on.

Along with a great deal of heat and a little less rain, the beginning of July has brought some good news for area farmers regarding ongoing disaster declaration efforts to help ease the difficulties that have come with such a surplus of rain.

In June, the Seneca County Farm Service Agency issued a disaster declaration for Seneca County and an additional request for emergency haying and grazing privileges on Conservation Reserve Program acres.

“All of us at the Farm Service Agency are aware of the losses sustained by a spring of excess rainfall and the stress that has placed on our producers and agriculture businesses. We noted those potential losses on our reports,” said Brenda Blair, Executive Director of the Seneca County Farm Service Agency,

Wednesday, Blair announced the USDA accepted Seneca County’s request for emergency haying and grazing. This means that some farmers will be allowed to have their animals graze on acres that are normally preserved at this time, or farmers can produce hay from those acres in order to alleviate some of the concerns about livestock feed shortages this year, according to a release from the USDA.

“The request was made for emergency haying and grazing due to excessive rain and a deep freeze of the alfalfa crop over the winter. Spring planting of corn for grain and silage has been reduced. It was noted that our livestock producers will be experiencing a crisis in feed losses,” Blair said.

“The approval will not help all producers but offer some relief to a few, and that made it worth the try,” she said.

Eberhard called the emergency hay and grazing approval a “blessing.”

“A big concern in our area has been hay and feed for animals, so hopefully this help a lot,” he said.

There have also been some other bright spots within the last few weeks at the local and state level. In addition to Wednesday’s approval of emergency haying and grazing in Seneca County, the FSA extended this year’s prevent plant crop reporting deadline for Ohio farmers until July 15, giving farmers more time to decide whether to plant or take the insurance payout, according to a release from the USDA. And Thursday morning, the USDA announced via another release that they have moved the deadline for farmers to report spring-seeded crops back to July 22, to give farmers an extension on filing with their local FSA offices in order to receive future disaster relief and maintain eligibility for other USDA programs, according to the release.

The request for a disaster declaration in Seneca County, though, has not yet been approved or denied. Farmers will have to continue to wait to hear about the status of the remaining relief that might be coming their way.

Only Lucas, Fulton and Henry counties have received a disaster declaration in Ohio so far this season.

“These requests require approval by both state and national authorities. Twenty-one other counties have applied, and none have been accepted or denied yet, so we are waiting with them,” Blair said.

“At this time, everything we can do at the local level has been accomplished,” she said.

There is some concrete relief that will be afforded by a disaster declaration from the USDA if Seneca County is approved, such as the ability for farmers with Farm Service loans to “move principle and interest for this year to the back of the loan and delay the payment, to free up money for the current year,” Blair said.

But, as Blair said, “the declaration’s major task is to draw national attention to our issue.”

The crisis that Seneca and surrounding counties are experiencing this year isn’t contained to the area, or even northwest Ohio. June 14, Gov. Mike DeWine requested that USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue declare the entire state of Ohio a disaster area due to the widespread nature of the weather extremes the state has experienced this past year.

And also in June, the entire 16-member Ohio House of Representatives delegation asked the USDA to raise prevent plant insurance payment rates from 55% to 90%.

In a letter addressed to Secretary Perdue June 19, the Ohio House delegation wrote that they wished to bring to Perdue’s attention “the destructive impact recent natural disasters have had on Ohioans.”

“Last year, Ohio farmers planted 90% of their planned corn acreage by the end of May. By the same time this year, Ohio farmers have only planted 38% of their anticipated corn acreage,” the letter from the delegation reads.

“These devastatingly low averages demonstrate the dire impact of current conditions on Midwestern farmers. This is the most delayed planting start in 40 years.

“The economic strain on farms across the Midwest will be overwhelming,” the letter states.

Looking forward, Eberhard and Nye both say they hope for the best weather possible to make the best of the situation, but Nye is cautiously optimistic.

“Given all the rain we’ve had so far, I can’t imagine it won’t turn into a drought now,” he said. “There’s only so much rain you get in a year.”

“And they always say that Mother Nature is in charge of 80% of the crop, really, and the farmer can only put in 20%.”

Of course, if Seneca County has its disaster declaration request approved, it will also help out a great deal.

“If they approve the disaster declaration, it’ll improve our insurance payment so we can pay our rent, buy some things to keep our acres clean and put a little money in our pockets, too,” Nye said.

“The prevent plant payment will be really helpful, and any sort of assistance is welcome, depending on the strings attached,” Eberhard said.

“We’ve been trying to adapt the best we can, and I think we’ll weather the storm,” he said.