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July 12, 2013

Rain can help, hurt region’s farmers

PATTON — Marty Yahner has 350 acres of wheat on his mountaintop farm, most of it golden ripe and ready to harvest.

But it’s all wet.

Weeks of daily rain have been, in many cases, good for crops, but it’s gotten to the point where Yahner and most other wheat and hay farmers across the region are praying for a dry spell instead of more rain.

“The wheat looks great – it’s a nice golden color. But we can’t get in the fields to harvest it,” said Yahner, noting that the crop needs a few days of sunshine to dry it out. “If this keeps it up, it’s going to get to the point where it’s going to sprout – and when that happens, it’s unusable as flour.”

Significant sprouting would greatly reduce the price for local wheat, forcing farmers to sell their crop for feed instead, said Yahner, whose family farm stretches across 1,900 acres in the Patton area.

“Too much rain,” he added, “can be too much of a good thing.”

Weeks of steady rain have been either a blessing, a curse, or both at farms across the region and just about every corner of the state, according to Sam Kieffer, government relations director for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

“Pretty much the entire state is seeing Orlando (Fla.) weather these days. Hot and humid with a rainstorm every day,” Kieffer said. ”If we’re talking about crops still in the growing stages, like vegetables, it’s probably a pretty good growing season.”

Toward Erie, northwestern Pennsylvania’s grape growers also are likely benefitting, Kieffer said.

And as long as the areas are draining adequately, soybeans, corn and other crops are benefitting throughout the state, too, he added.

Yahner said his cornstalks were approaching 6 feet in height – a fine sign for later this summer.

“Last year, (the stalks) were pretty much burning up,” he said, referring to a dry July that hurt corn crops. “It goes to show how no two growing seasons are ever alike.”

This year, the only worry with corn is that some lower locations could be drowned out a bit by rain pools that don’t adequately drain, he said.

In Somerset County, berries were big and bountiful at Skyview Lab Blueberry Farm outside Boswell this week.

Trouble is, rain and mud aren’t an enticing mix for customers who pay to pick their own, farm owner Alan Keyser said.

The constant rain also could be trouble for potatoes, said Kelly Hite, who farms 800 acres near Loretto in parts of Allegheny and Cambria townships.

Hite’s spuds – his main crop – look good so far, but storms have prevented him from spraying them for two weeks.

“When that happens, I have to start worrying about blight,” Hite said. “That would be a major problem.”

Just a few days of blue skies and sunshine could make all the difference, he noted.

Hite and many other farmers across the region are hoping Mother Nature will bring out the sun in the days ahead. Forecasts for early in the week appear to bolster the chance.

The National Weather Service is predicting mostly sunshine and clouds through Tuesday, but there still is a chance of thunderstorms each day.

“The sun is shining today,” Hite said Thursday. “So I’ve got high hopes, I guess.”

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