LOCAL CROPS Experts offer progress report on growing season

Crops that survived a cold, wet spring are now high and dry.
SALEM -- It's been a tough year so far for farmers and backyard gardeners, but the news isn't all bad, area agriculture experts said.
Dave Goerig, an Ohio State University horticulture extension agent, said backyard gardeners who were able to plant vegetables during a wet spring will soon see the fruits of their labors.
Tomatoes in area stores now are from the Marietta area of southern Ohio, but the local tomato crop should be ripe in the next two weeks, Goerig said.
Meanwhile, sweet corn, peppers, squash and other backyard vegetables are growing right on schedule, he said.
Homeowners shouldn't panic if lawns turn brown, Goerig said. Lawn grasses, Kentucky bluegrass in particular, simply will stop growing when soil temperatures reach 70 degrees or above, he said.
Watering doesn't have much effect because soil temperature, more than moisture, is the main cause for the grass to go dormant, he said.
Watering lawns will lower soil temperature some, but not enough to bring the grass out of its dormant state, he said.
Diseased trees
Goerig said damp and warm, then damp and cold spring weather conditions have resulted in a variety of diseases on pine trees and fruit trees. Diseased parts should be pruned and the prunings and diseased leaves or branches that have fallen should be disposed of, he said.
Ernie Oelker, an Ohio State University extension agent, said when lawns turn brown, homeowners should water trees and shrubs. Large trees need at least an inch of water a day, he said.
Oelker said Mahoning Valley crops -- corn and soybeans in particular -- need rain. He said there's been less rain in the area than last year, but corn and soybeans are still growing.
The crops need warmth to grow, but not without rain, he said. Summer heat without rain will be harmful because it could keep the plants from pollinating. Lack of water also prevents corn kernels from developing, he said.
Oelker said farmers are now harvesting wheat, and although some have excellent yields, others have problems. He said harvesting is tricky in some fields where the wheat has not ripened uniformly. Even though some grain is not ripe, farmers must harvest now or lose the grain that is ripe, he said.
Pest flourishes
Dry weather has also caused the potato leaf hopper to flourish in alfalfa fields, Oelker said. Farmers need to harvest the second crop of alfalfa now, he said.
Although leaf hopper damage has already been done to the hay, farmers should watch the third cut and may want to apply pesticide, he said.
In Pennsylvania, D. Earl Smith of the Farm Service Agency, serving Mercer and Lawrence counties, said farmers report crop loss to the FSA, and Smith has not heard from many farmers yet.
He said vegetables, fruit and soybeans could have good yields with right weather conditions in the next few weeks. Recent warm weather has helped crop growth, he said.
Ryan Hockensmith, a Penn State University agronomy extension agent, said western Pennsylvania is in drought but with field corn and soybeans still doing well.
The drought follows a wet spring that ruined many Western Pennsylvania crops, he said. The key for sweet-corn growers is to have the first local corn available, and early sweet corn "just didn't happen," he said.
Effect on livestock diets
Hockensmith said alfalfa not chemically treated is hard-hit by the potato leaf hopper. He said damage has more effect on quality than quantity, so farmers may have to supplement the diets of their livestock to make up for lost nutrients.
Grain crops are doing well, although straw from both oats and wheat might be short because of too much rain in the spring. Hockensmith said, however, that short straw doesn't necessarily mean damage.
Frost damaged some early grain crop, he said. In one Lawrence County field, a crop of barley was devastated by frost while the crop in a field a few yards away was untouched.

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