Cool Spring Has SW Pa. Farmers Scrambling

6/1/2013 7:00 AM
By Laura Zoeller Southwestern Pa. Correspondent

PROSPERITY, Pa. — Spring 2013 has been a mixed bag for southwestern Pennsylvania as far as weather is concerned, and farmers in the region have different outlooks on how it will affect their operations.

Nighttime temperatures near freezing and daytime temperatures cooler than average have some farmers in Washington and Greene counties scrambling to catch up on planting at the same time that some in Fayette County are feeling good about their timetables.

Tom Willis, of Willis Farm in Jefferson, Greene County, said some of his crops are late to get in the ground.

“We got our oats in on time and our wheat last fall,” Willis said, “but we’re behind this spring. We sowed down nine acres of alfalfa in early May, which was about a month late, but the soil has been so cool.

“We should be planting corn now and we’re running late, but I don’t think we’re too late, and I’m not real worried yet,” he said. “The pasture grass looks OK, and I think that if we keep rotating the cows through the fields that it will hold up.

“What I’m most concerned about is the hay,” Willis said. “It is thick but really short. We will take the first cutting and hope that we get some warm rains to bring on a second and third cutting. That warm rain will be necessary for the corn, too.”

Charlie Smith, of Plumsock Farm in Prosperity, Washington County, is also concerned about the quality of his hayfields.

“We finished planting corn on May 18,” Smith said, “so as long as we get some rain we should be in good shape there, but our hay is thin and short.

“I know that last year we baled our first field on May 21, and we haven’t even mowed any yet this year,” he said. “It’s only a foot tall and going to seed. It could be a big issue for us, since that is one of our big cash crops.”

Cross into Fayette County, however, and it’s a different story. Clinton Allen, of Allen Hill Dairy in Smock, says this spring has been just what was needed after last winter’s balmy conditions.

“We haven’t had any issues,” Allen said. “We have 240 acres of corn planted, which we were able to get started around April 15. That is the earliest we’ve ever planted corn, which was a gamble, but it seems to have paid off.

“We’ve been chopping haylage for two weeks,” Allen said, “and we have round-baled 50 acres of hay already. I think the cold winter and the nice snow pack that we had really helped the ground.

“The alfalfa is up to my knees and the timothy is waist high,” he said. “It seems to be not only more quantity, but better quality as well.”

One thing they all agreed on was the potential damage caused by the late frosts as well as the need for rain.

“We could do without the frosts we have been getting,” Allen said. “The one two weeks ago was worse for us than the one this past week, and it did hurt the corn a little, but it is coming back pretty well. I still hope that we don’t have another one this spring, though.”

Willis agreed.

“The soil needs to warm up a bit yet to finish planting,” Willis said. “My dad always liked it to be 65 degrees before he planted, and I have found that it has worked well for us to follow that advice. If we can keep the frost off the ground and get some warm spring rains, we’ll be in good shape.”

Smith has made similar observations.

“The cool air has definitely slowed growing things down,” Smith said. “The trees are late to get their leaves, and the grass down in the bottoms is sparsely growing.

“We even still needed a fire in the fireplace last weekend,” he said. “But, I still think everything can come together OK if this cold snap was the last one and we start to get some consistent rain.”

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