Heavy Rain Affecting Area Crops
August 11, 2018 5:00 AM
by Centre County Gazette, Vincent Corso
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Area farmers are constantly keeping an eye on the weather. Too little rain means drought and plants that can’t grow. Too much rain can be a problem, too, and this season has seen Centre County waterlogged, with heavy rain causing flooding and overly wet conditions.

“I was hoping for rain until it came, and then I wasn’t,” said Vathan Dorbolo, of Grow at Home Farm in Philipsburg. “I lost a 50-foot row of cucumbers from the rain and my tomatoes from wilting. It was devastating, all that rain. A lot of my corn ears are yellowing, too. I think they got too much water. My tomatoes were devastated. I was left with sticks, with no tomatoes attached to them, on a whole crop of tomatoes.”

It rained early and it rained often in July, and Adriana Murillo-Williams, who works with farmers through Penn State Extension, said that rain has affected area farmers such as Dorbolo in different ways.

“The rain in the spring kept crops from being planted at the optimum time, and this is why there are soybeans and corn at a wide range of growth stages across the county. With the delayed planting, there are associated yield reductions for each crop,” said Murillo-Williams.

“So, the delay will cause some crops to be planted later than normal and that causes the fields to produce less than normal."

But, the problems haven’t stopped there. On already-standing crops, too much rain can cause water logging, where there is more water than the soil can absorb, and flooding, water above the soil surface, and crop damage can occur.

According to Murillo-Williams, this damage occurs because “plants and their roots obtain the required energy to grow and normally function from a process called respiration. In waterlogged and flooded soils, water fills up the soil spaces that otherwise would have contained oxygen, therefore, root respiration is reduced, and root function is impaired.

“Nitrogen availability for the plants is also affected by excess water in the soil, since excess water cause nitrogen leaching, and nitrogen loss from the soil to the atmosphere in a process called de-nitrification.”

Soybeans are especially affected by the standing water in the fields that lead to nitrogen loss.

“Soybeans form a symbiotic relationship with a bacterium in the soil that provides most of the nitrogen that the plant needs,” Murillo-Williams said. “This bacterium takes nitrogen from the atmosphere and makes it available to the plant. During flooding, the efficiency of this biological nitrogen fixation is reduced, also leading to nitrogen stress.”

She said that wheat production also has been affected by the high humidity and heavy rain, causing a fungus to occur on plants. 

“High humidity and rain during the growing season favored wheat infection, with a fungus that contaminates the grain and the straw with a toxic compound called doexynivalenol. Farmers that were not able to spray their field on time encountered high levels of DON in their crops.  “The rain also kept many farmers in the area from cutting hay at the optimum time. It was common to see over-matured hay fields in the area that were pass the optimum time for harvest.”

Murillo-Williams said the amount of damage that occurs from a flood depends on when the crops were planted, with more-mature plants more likely to recover. But, the more it rains, the more stress that is caused on all plants, which will affect the yield.

“If we do not get a break from the rain, and there is no chance for the soil to dry, we might see more plants showing symptoms of nitrogen deficiency and water logging stress.” 

Barry Moser, of Moser’s Farm in Centre Hall, said the rains have been troublesome for area farmers. He said the rain is good for some crops, but for others, it has had a negative effect. He said his peppers and zucchini have done well, and he keeps many of his crops in a place that has a little insurance against the rain. But, he said most of his apples fell off the trees during the heavy rains and are ruined.

Moser will keep watching the sky, hoping that forecast rains will pass over his farm, "'cause we have had plenty. But you have to be careful with what you ask for. You know when it was hot and dry, we were asking for rain; now we’ve got it. You know, sometimes it is too much of a good thing.”

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