Rain of Ruin Downstate
The forecast today for Downstate Galesburg is calling for scattered thunderstorms. It seems like the entire summer was one large scattered thunderstorm broken by tornados which struck earlier this month just west of Galesburg in Cameron, Illinois. In fact, the running joke in Western Illinois was that it only rained twice this summer, each time though it lasted 30 days!
According to the Illinois State Climatologist, after a record-setting June, as well as a wet May beforehand and a wet July so far, we are seeing the agricultural impacts of the wet growing season. Right now, the state-wide July precipitation in Illinois is at 3.1 inches. That is about 50% above the long-term average for this time in the month.
You would think that all of this rain would be a welcome thing in the hot months of summer to those who grow food. But, just as too much fertilizer will burn plants, too much water will harm plant life as well. Michael Roegge of the University of Illinois Extension said the problem is that saturated soils are devoid of oxygen and it makes it difficult for roots systems of plants to function. The heavy rains this summer have leached most of the nitrogen from the top 10 to 12 inches of soil starving the plants. The addition of more nitrogen to the soil will not alleviate the problem until the root system can function properly
During the recent Knox County Fair the number of entries for exhibit in the Ag Produce Building was down from last year. Some of the entrants who display in the fair stated that it was a hard year to get anything growing to both the heavy rains and the cooler than normal temperatures early in the summer. An older entrant that I spoke to had an obviously hard time walking. He said that he was attempting to weed his cucumber patch and his leg sank knee deep in the wet soil and got stuck. He hurt his back when he laid back on the ground in an attempt to free himself. He also said that he feared that he would sink further in the attempt to free himself and would be in serious trouble at that point!
Many Downstate farmers are seeing an increase in disease in plants this summer. Here in Western Illinois there are many corn fields that have large patches of stunted corn stalks, a sign that those spots were flooded for some time. Bell peppers in many area gardens seem to be quite stunted in growth, as well and many leaves have brown patches. The overall yield for all peppers in general has so far been poor. When July comes around, the pepper plants can usually be counted on to produce, but this year I myself have only gotten a few peppers as of the last week of July. Tomatoes, another crop which starts to come in abundance in July, have yet to ripen.
Farmer Tom Collopy of Dahinda, Illinois stated that he has many pepper plants but not too many that are producing or are not diseased. East Galesburg, Illinois farmer, Dusty Sanor of Spurgeon Veggies, stated that it has been a very hard year and also stated “we have serious disease problems on all our tomatoes and peppers and we’ve lost a huge percentage of our storage onions and garlic to rot.” Many growers in Western Illinois have said that cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables are also seriously affected.
Although food crops have suffered due to the heavy rains, this has not kept weeds from prospering. In fact, many fields have turned into swamps, limiting the farmer’s ability to get out into them to cultivate. This has caused weeds to shoot up, further limiting the yield on many crops. Mr. Collopy said that he could not find many of his peppers due to the weeds taking over. In my own fields, I have two primary growing areas and I have pretty much abandoned the one on the east side due to the fact that every attempt to get in to turn the soil was met with quicksand-like conditions. Ms. Sanor confirmed that out at Spurgeon Veggies they were also in a fierce battle with weeds.
The story is much the same through most of Downstate Illinois. Though, according to Michael Roegge in a recent article he penned about this year’s deluge: “In fields where soil moisture (and plant disease) hasn’t interfered with growth the summer crops are hitting their stride. Sweet corn, green beans, cucumbers, squash, peppers, okra, eggplant and many others are in full production,” most small farmers have been hard hit by the wet weather this summer.
Wes King of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance fears that many people do not realize the extent of the problem and are not aware how bad farmers have been hit by the rain. He said that most farmers will say this has been worse than the 2012 drought.
A way people can help farmers that have been affected by the adverse weather is by supporting groups like Farm Aid. Their disaster assistance program for farmers is a great help for small farmers who have no place else to turn. This of course is a great reason to attend Farm Aid 30 in Chicago!
The rain this year has affected farmers here in Western Illinois as well as throughout much of the state. Hopefully the rain will subside and farmers can go on farming crops instead of mud! As Mr. Roegge further stated in his recent article: “there are certain crops that can be planted in the fall, and these include the cole crops (broccoli, cabbage, etc.), greens (Asian greens, lettuce, spinach, etc.), radish, beets, carrots, peas, cucumber, turnip and a few others.” “If it ever does quit raining, remember that fall gardens can be very productive.”