In the four decades Mary Beth Lieb has been farming with her husband, Ralph, she has seen dry times and wet times, and she has learned one thing: You have to roll with the punches.
“You can’t change Mother Nature,” Lieb said.
The biggest concern for the Nicktown farmer is getting the second cutting of hay to start growing. It’s not going to happen without rain, Lieb said.
The Liebs are not alone.
Depending on when the corn was planted in the spring, some is tall and going into tassel while later plantings are struggling to meet the old adage of being “knee-high by the Fourth of July,” Tom Ford, Penn State Extension horticulture educator, said.
“In some valleys, the corn is beautiful. But on the other end of that valley it looks like a pineapple,” Ford said. “It all depends on who got the showers.”
Rainfall in May was relatively normal, Charles Ross, a meteorologist and hydrologist with the National Weather Service in State College, said. But June was a different story.
“Over the past month, it’s been pretty dry, about one-half of the rainfall we normally have,” Ross said.
Records show that Cambria and much of Somerset County, in a normal June, get four inches of rainfall.
In June, the rainfall came in at about two inches.
Adding to the concern is the high temperatures that create significant moisture evaporation.
Crops in northern Cambria County, especially corn and soybeans, were doing fairly well until the later part of June and early July, said farmer Martin Yahner of Patton.
“Every day it goes by without rain we’re seeing more drought stress. The soybeans have quit growing. They’re waiting for rain,” he said.
The corn is rolling – the stalks folding in an effort to diminish moisture evaporation – and, as it moves into the tassel stage, is generating some real concern, Ford said.
While corn planted early because of the warm spring is shoulder high, it is starting to tassel up at a time when it needs moisture the most.
“For some of the corn crop we’re at a critical time for rainfall,” Ford said. “We need rain now so the ears will fill out.”
Some parts of Somerset County appear to have received a little more rain than Cambria, but it may not have been enough to matter, said Harold Shaulis, a Milford Township farmer.
“We’ve had spots that are dry, and while we are getting by, we really need some rain,” he said. “Farming is always a challenge.”
Alfalfa growth is stunted by the lack of rain and even “plain old hay” is not growing, Shaulis said.
The unsettled weather patterns over the July 4 holiday likely did little to ease the drought-like conditions and, while temperatures will be close to July normals for the next 10 days, no significant rainfall is expected, Ross said.
Ford and others are attempting to stay optimistic and continue to hope for the best through July and August when temperatures may be slightly higher than normal.
“The soybeans are sitting there and, with any rainfall, they probably will be fine,” Ford said. “As for the corn, we’re not super critical yet. But we’re getting there.”
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