COLUMBUS - This year's earlier-than-normal harvest has some farmers finding more than ripe corn in their fields.
Small stashes of marijuana have popped up in some fields, hidden from view and left to grow unfettered between tall rows of corn, the farmers unaware.
In recent weeks, deputy sheriffs in at least two central Ohio counties have received reports from farmers looking to get the contraband off their property.
In the past month, Fairfield County Sheriff Dave Phalen said his office has had a couple of calls that led to the discovery of 47 marijuana plants on one farmer's fields and about eight plants in another field.
"It's not something that happens often, but when it does, it's a nuisance for farmers," Sheriff Phalen said.
"If it's a large volume, major crimes become involved, but typically we go in and remove it to our property room and later destroy it. Sometimes farmers will just destroy it themselves."
In Franklin County, Chief Deputy Steve Martin, who oversees the criminal division for the sheriff's office, said his office has had calls from farmers who have reported finding 20 marijuana plants in their field last month and in June.
He said officers go out, pull up the plants, and eventually destroy them. Deputy Martin said the farmers often do not want to be identified or they report the discovery anonymously.
While clandestine marijuana plantings are not new, the situation is different this year because the hot, dry summer has meant more farmers are in the fields harvesting corn before pot farmers can retrieve their plants, said Fred Yoder, a corn grower with a 1,500-acre farm near Plain City.
He also is past president of the Ohio Corn Growers Association.
Already, 85 percent of corn is mature, compared with 23 percent at the same time last year, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
The corn harvest so far this year is at 24 percent complete statewide, compared with 1 percent complete at the same time last year.
"It's been crazy this year," Mr. Yoder said. "Normally, farmers aren't in the fields harvesting until October, but this year they were in the fields in September.
"Normally the [criminals] get in and harvest the pot before the farmers get to their fields, but I guess they weren't counting on farmers having an early harvest."
He said the criminals plant their pot between the corn rows to take advantage of the fertilizers that farmers use on their corn and to use the corn stalks as cover to allow the pot to grow undetected.
"Harvest [for corn] is up by a good three to four weeks this year," Mr. Yoder said. "I guess that's why there is so much evidence being found now."
The issue is becoming a more common problem for farmers, said Natalie Lehner, spokesman for the Ohio Corn Growers Association.
"Some farmers will just roll over it and crush it during their harvest," she said. "It is the criminals' intention to get to the plants before the farmer's harvest, but I guess the criminals aren't up on their harvest dates this year."
Chances are, not all marijuana plants will be discovered and destroyed. But there is no fear that undiscovered marijuana will get into the food supply or contaminate the soil, said Clay Sneller, a professor of horticulture and crop science at Ohio State University Extension.
He said that when farmers harvest their corn, the ears are separated from the stalks. Those stalks and anything else is then ground up and spat back onto the field.
Any marijuana plants lose their drug value.
And even if the plants deposit seeds that later sprout in the fields, the pot is eventually killed by the herbicides farmers use to kill any other broadleaf weeds that grow there, Mr. Sneller said.
Gene Smart found a large plot of marijuana plants in his cornfields in western Franklin County last year and expects to find more this year.
Mr. Smart said he found rows of marijuana growing in little drinking cups planted between his corn rows. He said he had not had that problem until recently.
"I'm sure there is more out there," said Mr. Smart, who began farming in 1949. "It seems like it is getting worse."