Harford corn crop delayed by spring rain, challenged by summer heat

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Harford County farmer Zach Rose’s corn crop was hit with too much rain during the spring planting and not enough rain at a critical time in the summer heat.

“A lot of the top-end yield potential isn’t going to be there because it got planted so late,” Rose said in a telephone interview Sunday afternoon while working in the field.

Other farmers around Harford County face similar issues as their corn reaches it peak height and starts to pollinate. They must also deal with potential impacts from ongoing trade disputes between the U.S. and other nations.

The U.S. government under President Donald Trump has slapped tariffs on goods from allies such as Canada, Mexico and the European Union. A trade war between the U.S. and China, with tariffs on each others’ goods, including American soybeans, started last Friday.

“Let’s hope that the tariffs ... it’s a short-term pain, long-term gain, and hopefully it all works out — I think it will,” John Rigdon, of Rigdon Farms in Jarrettsville, said Tuesday.

Rose and his family own and operate the 1,400-acre Clear Meadow Farm in White Hall, where they grow multiple grain crops such as corn, soybeans and wheat and raise a beef cattle herd managed by his mother, Nancy. Clear Meadow is also known for its sunflowers that bloom in the Jarrettsville area each September.

Crop prices are affected, which affects farmers such as the Roses, even if most of their grain is not sold internationally, Zach Rose said.

The majority of the grain produced at Clear Meadow Farm is meant for the domestic feed market, but some soybeans are sold on the international market, according to Rose.

Corn prices are $3.50 per bushel for July, and futures are $3.59 for September, $3.72 for December, according to the Chicago Board of Trade.

Rose said $5 per bushel would be a “decent price” for corn, but farmers don’t want prices to be too high, as they would be passed on by animal feed producers who purchase grain from them.

Soybean prices stand at $8.74 per bushel for July, and futures are $8.77 for August, $8.83 for September and $8.94 for November, according to the Chicago Board of Trade website.

Wheat prices are at $5.13 per bushel for July. Wheat futures are $5.14 for September and $5.29 for December, according to the board of trade website.

The Roses, who also raise beef cattle, “can’t afford to have a real high price for grain either,” he said.

“It’s been a very challenging year farming,” Rose said.

Heavy spring rains

Heavy rains during the spring meant farmers could not get into their fields to plant — 3.2 inches of rain fell in the area in April, followed by 8.17 inches in May and 4.77 inches in June, according to precipitation data collected at the Conowingo Dam and posted on the National Weather Service website.

“A lot of corn got planted in June, and you prefer to have all your corn planted in April and May,” Rose said. “The fields were so wet, we couldn’t get in there.”

He said a time of heavy rain can be just as bad as a drought.

“The early planted corn looks excellent,” Ed Grimmel, of Grimmel Farms in Jarettsville, said Monday. “The late-planted corn is suffering from dry weather and the extreme heat we had last week.”

Last week temperatures hit the 90s and the heat index went into the triple digits. Temperatures were in the mid and high-80s Monday and should remain there through the rest of the week, according to the National Weather Service.

Rain is necessary at this point in the plant’s life cycle as the plants produce pollen on the tassel, according to Rose. The pollen fertilizes the silks to produce ears of corn.

“When the corn is pollinating you need some good rain to help out,” Rose said. “It needs some rain to give it a boost, to get it growing faster.”

Heavy spring rains also hurt Rose’s wheat crop, which had been planted last fall for harvest this summer. Rain in April, when the wheat was flowering, caused problems such as disease.

“All the wet weather really hurt the wheat,” Rose said.

Grimmel described the same issue for his operation’s wheat crop, as the rain washed off the pollen.

“Wheat is more of a dry-weather crop,” he said.

Grimmel expressed confidence that the international trade issues are “all going to turn out for the better,” citing Trump’s experience as a billionaire businessman before coming to the White House.

“We need businessmen ... in government,” Grimmel said.

Row upon row of healthy-looking green corn, with tassels showing, could be seen Saturday evening in the fields of the Harford County-owned Edgeley Grove Park in Fallston. The park includes about 90 acres for crop production, as well as Annie’s Playground, multiple athletic fields and picnic areas and a trailhead for the Ma & Pa Heritage Trail, according to the county’s website.

Rigdon Farms raises corn in the county-owned fields. John Rigdon said his family’s operation grows corn on about 1,200 acres in Cecil, Kent and Harford counties.

The operation, which dates to 1728, also produces hay, wheat straw, grains, beef, fruits and vegetables, even picnic tables, according to the Rigdon Farms website.

“It seems like the planting on everything has been pushed back,” Rigdon said, saying weather had pushed back soybean planting, which usually happens in May and June.

The majority of the Rigdons’ crops have been planted, though. Rigdon said soybeans should be planted by early to mid-July at the latest, and farmers “can still get a decent crop” if it rains in August.

“If it gets dry in August, we’ll hardly get any crop at all,” he said.

Rigdon plans to harvest the corn crop in late September to early October, which will help avoid damage from deer. He said deer eating corn is the most challenging part of planting in Edgeley Grove.

David Crowl, whose family operates Crowl Bros. Inc. at Garden Fence Farm near Rocks State Park, said his farm’s corn is “not even knee-high yet,” as it was not planted until late May.

Crowl works with two of his sons, Parker and Tanner, who are the sixth generation of their family to farm in Harford County. Theirs is primarily a dairy operation, with about 200 cows. The family planted about 250 acres of corn this year, plus they worked with other farmers to help them plant, Crowl said.

“A lot of corn that went in early that ended up having to be replanted because of all the moisture, all the water,” he said.

This story has been updated.

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