Fall might be harvest time, but wet weather and the resulting soft soil have turned the season into a waiting game for many farmers.
“Things are going slow,” said Elizabeth Hinkel, a Schuylkill County farmer and president of the Pennsylvania Corn Growers Association.
She and her husband have 800 acres of corn and another 800 of soybeans to harvest.
“Yieldwise, it’s average (for the corn). Qualitywise, it’s not real great,” Hinkel said. “We have had a lot of disease pressure, stalk rot and a lot of issues dealing with the wet weather.”
She’s hearing the same story from other farmers. Too much rain is throwing off harvest timing, quality and yields.
Gettysburg farmer Matt Keller said he’s still looking at his fields, waiting for them to become fit for harvesting.
He has about 450 acres of corn — fair in quality, with some of the kernels sprouting on the ear — and another 600 of soybeans.
“Beans I would call OK. I don’t want to call them poor, but it’s not good either,” he said.
Rain also delayed planting in the spring, yielding to an off-schedule season the likes of which Keller’s 86-year-old grandfather says he’s never seen.
Driving heavy machinery in wet fields can lead to soil compaction and undo improvements from no-till farming.
Penn State Extension educator Liz Bosak reported that Perry County got 7 inches of rain above normal in July and August, and Hinkel’s farm got more than 19 inches of rain in July alone.
Still, producers have found some windows dry enough to bring in some crops.
Corn silage harvest is nearly done, and corn grain harvest is about one-quarter complete, according to a Monday USDA crop report.
Fields in Lancaster County have dried out enough for field work, said Jeff Graybill, an Extension educator there.
“Soybeans are yielding well; however, many have 5 to 10 percent shriveled, moldy or purple-stained beans,” he said in the USDA report. “Corn seems to be faring better with some tip sprouting.”
Hinkel was able to get some early corn harvested to feed livestock, but it’s been too wet to get back into the fields.
She’s hoping for an opening once the remnants of Hurricane Michael pass by.
In the meantime, Hinkel has seen sprouted corn, and she worries that strong winds could cause lodging.
“The longer it sits out there and keeps raining,” Hinkel said, “the worse it’s going to get.”
Keller also expects deer pressure to increase the longer his crop remains in the field.
The planting delays kept Keller from forward contracting much of this year’s crop, but he’s got plenty of storage.
He plans to hold onto the grain for a while and wait for a better price.
A year like this places plenty of pressure on a farm. Many still need to pay for this year’s seed and planting expenses even as they’re preparing for 2019.
“We are pushing a pencil pretty hard,” Keller said.