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Published: Tuesday, 5/12/2009

Cold, rain in area delay farmers' start on planting

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
A field along County Road 4 in Fulton County is prepared for soybeans. About 13 percent of Ohio's crop is planted. A field along County Road 4 in Fulton County is prepared for soybeans. About 13 percent of Ohio's crop is planted.
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Far behind schedule for planting corn, farmer Kevin Fox spent Monday rushing to catch up.

"It's not perfect conditions," admitted Mr. Fox, who farms several thousand acres in Lucas, Wood, and Ottawa counties.

"It's damper than we would like it to be. But the forecast is for more rain starting Wednesday. We thought we better try to get something done."

The story is much the same across northwest Ohio, southeast Michigan, and the Midwest as growers contend with heavier than usual rainfall and cool temperatures.

"There isn't a whole lot of joy out there in Mudville," observed Mark Koenig, who works in Ottawa and Sandusky counties with Ohio State University's Extension program. "Growers would like to get going. The sooner they can go, the better chance they have for top yields."

Figures released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture yesterday showed that, as of last week, just 22 percent of Ohio's corn crop was planted, compared to 68 percent in a typical year. In Michigan, corn planting was at 18 percent, compared to a typical 62 percent.

Soybeans, another major crop grown in the region, is typically planted later than corn.

Even so, only 13 percent of seeds were in the ground across

Ohio and 5 percent in Michigan last week, down from about a third of the crop in an average year.

Industry experts aren't sounding alarms yet. But if the rain doesn't stop to allow fields to dry, growers face potentially lower yields or switching from corn to other crops, like soybeans, experts said.

Corn alone contributed $117 million to the metro Toledo economy last year and over $500 million to northwest Ohio overall.

For growers, there is one upside to the planting delays: rising crop prices.

John Sanow, a market analyst at DTN Inc., a statistical service in Omaha, said that because of record yields, prices have been stagnant on supplies left over from last year. But "we're more bullish on the new crop because of these delays that we are continuing to see," he added. The firm also is optimistic that soybean prices will rise.

But if those forecasts materialize, it could mean higher consumer prices because corn and soybeans are staples of food production and animal feed.

Because of poor planting conditions thus far, area fields were a beehive of activity yesterday, said Greg LaBarge, who works in Fulton County with OSU's Extension program.

Situations vary across the region. In sandy soil, such as in Sandusky County, planting is almost on schedule because the ground dries more rapidly, Mr. Koenig, of OSU Extension, said. The biggest delays are at farms with richer soil, like those near Lake Erie, he added.

Mr. Fox, the northwest Ohio farmer, said he hopes to plant corn on more than 2,000 acres this year. He planted about 80 acres two weeks ago, but weather and soil conditions kept him out of the fields until yesterday.

"I'm optimistic," he said at midafternoon. But even so, he added that he will switch to soybeans and other crops for any acreage not planted by June 1.

Contact Gary Pakulski at:

gpakulski@theblade.com

or 419-724-6082.



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