- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 1, 2016

CLEVELAND (AP) - Late summer rain appears to have largely salvaged Ohio’s corn and soybean crops during a growing season that saw the northern half of the state hit by record heat and drought conditions, according to farmers and agriculture experts.

While the rain helped avert a disaster, farmers across the state are dealing with low commodity prices caused by record-setting harvests in other Midwest states. Agriculture and food processing is Ohio’s largest industry, contributing $105 billion to the state’s economy each year and is responsible for employing 1 in 7 workers.

“It’s a double whammy,” said Rory Lewandowski, a specialist with the Ohio State Extension Service in northeast Ohio’s Wayne County. “The worst-case scenario you get in a year of low prices is low yield as well.”

Joe Cornely of the Ohio Farm Bureau said the late rain helped hardier soybean plants more than corn. While the soybean harvest won’t “make anyone wealthy” in Ohio this year, the prices that some farmers are getting for their corn crops are “considerably lower” than the cost of growing and harvesting it, Cornely said.

Interstate 70, which runs through the middle of the state, was the dividing line for the summer’s drought conditions. While the northern half of the state went thirsty for most of June and July, the southern half received normal rainfall amounts, and with its longer growing season, much bigger grain yields.

Ohio State University professor Peter Thomison said corn yields in southern Ohio averaged between 200 and 210 bushels an acre, while averages in the northern half have typically been 130 to 140 bushels an acre. About half of the state’s grain corn has been harvested thus far.

Thomison said northern Ohio corn farmers “dodged a bullet” thanks to the late summer rain.

“The yields are better than we expected they’d be given how bad the drought was,” Thomison said.

When rain finally fell in northern Ohio, some farmer benefited more than others thanks to fickle weather bands. The extension service’s Lewandowski and others said there were instances where a field would be drenched while another one a short distance away would miss out on rain completely.

“It was pretty incredible,” Lewandowski said. “It’s really a tale of haves and have nots.”

Soybeans fared better than corn because they have a longer period to flower and can adapt to dry conditions by producing large beans when they get the rain they need.

Nathan Like farms 400 acres with a partner in northwest Ohio’s Putnam and Henry counties, mostly growing soybeans and corn silage used for feed in dairy and beef operations. He said they averaged a yield of between 22 and 26 tons an acre for silage instead of the 30 to 32 tons harvested in better weather years.

“This year was pretty tough on farmers in northwest Ohio,” Like said. “It was a tough struggle across a vast area here.”

Ron Burns said his soybean fields in Union County, northwest of Columbus, were saved by the late rain. He said he averaged just over 50 bushels an acre, but had hoped for 60 bushels instead.

“Still, I’m happy with what yield we got,” Burns said. “We’ll keep the lights on and do it again next year.”

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