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Farmers getting later start on planting this spring

Doug Hayden pulls finishing tool as he prepares soil for planting corn Hayden Farms Lowell Ind. Friday May 3 2013.

Doug Hayden pulls a finishing tool as he prepares the soil for planting corn at Hayden Farms in Lowell, Ind. Friday May 3, 2013. Cooler temperatures and recent rains have delayed the planting season for many area farmers. | Stephanie Dowell~Post-Tribune

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Updated: May 6, 2013 11:18PM



Northwest Indiana farmers got a late start on planting this year due to a cold, wet spring, but warmer temperatures are starting to dry some of the lower-lying areas to ready them for crops.

Nikky Witkowski, an agricultural natural resources extension educator at the Lake County Purdue Extension Office, said planting of soybeans, corn and wheat is occurring really late compared to last year in particular when warm temperatures popped up in February and March.

“Because it’s been so wet this spring, some farmers haven’t been able to get into low-lying fields but some with land at higher elevations have been able to plant,” Witkowski said. “Right now, we’re usually about 20 to 30 percent planted, but now we’re around 2 percent.”

Lake County’s farms center in the southern half of the county, with most producing corn and soybeans, with some wheat and vegetable farms in the mix as well.

Lowell farmer Mike Hayden estimated that he’s behind by about two acres or about 10 days late from when he typically starts.

“I don’t think it will be a problem down the road, as long as we get normal rainfall and conditions,” Hayden said. “Everything is late this year, the trees, the grass.”

Witkowski said farmers should be able to get back on track as long as heavy rains and even the occasional late spring snow don’t hit Northwest Indiana in the next few weeks.

Much of the Midwest’s corn crop was damaged last summer due to lower than average rainfall and scorching hot temperatures.

“We did get some rain last year, so we were pretty fortunate last year compared to some other states (like Illinois and Iowa),” Hayden said.

Witkowski said the snow and heavy spring rains mostly helps the water table.

“It was so hot and so dry last year that we didn’t really gain all of that moisture back,” Witkowski said. “We haven’t fully recovered from last year, but we’re at least in a good position since we’ve gotten pretty consistent rain.”

Apple orchards and blueberry farms are hoping for a rebound this year as well. In 2012, warm temperatures cropped up in February and March before a late frost damaged a majority of the yield at local apple orchards and blueberry farms. Garwood Orchard in LaPorte and County Line Orchard in Hobart were forced to import apples from other states to meet demand.

Garwood Orchard co-owner and Vice President Brian Garwood said the conditions this year are almost the exact opposite of last year. “Things are running about a week to 10 days behind,” Garwood said.

“Last year, we had apples budding on March 29; this year they’re probably not going to bloom until May 12 or 15. The difference is almost everybody in the Midwest should have fruit this year and prices should come down substantially for consumers.”

Garwood said the farm planted sweet corn around April 5, which probably won’t be ready for harvesting until July 20. He said the outlook is pretty good for crops as long as a cold snap doesn’t show up in May.

As far as planting for home gardeners, Witkowski said they should hold off planting flowers and vegetables until about mid-May.

“I wouldn’t bank on planting until the frost risk is gone for home gardens,” Witkowski said. “That’s usually the second week in May, so we’re getting to the point where it’s safer to plant outside. But the low on Saturday, May 11, is supposed to get down to 43.”



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