Tom Tucker, who has been farming since 1974, recalled a decent planting season last spring; much of the crop was in the ground by mid-May, which is good timing for a decent yield if the weather cooperates, he said. "A little too much rain a few times, and not enough at other times. If you've been at this awhile, you realize you're at the mercy of Mother Nature." (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)
Tom Tucker, who has been farming since 1974, recalled a decent planting season last spring; much of the crop was in the ground by mid-May, which is good timing for a decent yield if the weather cooperates, he said. "A little too much rain a few times, and not enough at other times. If you've been at this awhile, you realize you're at the mercy of Mother Nature." (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)
HANCOCK COUNTY — The corn crop isn’t quite as good as last year, but Greg Kleiman isn’t complaining.

Partway through his harvest, the Hancock County farmer is estimating a yield of 180 to 190 bushels per acre, similar to Indiana’s forecast and higher than the nation’s.

“A hundred-eighty is fine,” he said. “I’ll take 180 every year if I could get it.”

He and others working in agriculture in the county are reporting an average year as they continue bringing in corn and soybeans. Weather — both wet and dry — posed challenges for crops throughout the planting and growing season, but nothing devastating. Farmers hope rain will remain at bay as much as possible in order to make for a strong finish. They may have to brace for ongoing pandemic-induced supply chain problems impacting preparations for next year’s planting season.

Kleiman, who grows corn and soybeans mostly in Brandywine Township in the southern part of the county, estimates he’s about a third of the way through his harvest. Soybeans are yielding at about 50 to 60 bushels per acre, he said, similar to the state and national forecasts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“In the spring when we planted, it was cool and wet and it kind of stunted them so they’re not real tall,” Kleiman said. “It’s an average year for the beans.”

Tom Tucker, Kleiman’s cousin who farms with him, recalled a decent planting season last spring and having just about everything in the ground by mid-May.

“That’s early enough around here, if you get Mother Nature to cooperate,” Tucker said. “She did pretty well. A little too much rain a few times, and not enough at other times. If you’ve been at this awhile, you realize you’re at the mercy of Mother Nature.”

Jonathan Sparks, a Hancock County corn and soybean farmer and the Indiana Farm Bureau’s director for District 6, which includes Hancock County, estimated the county’s harvest is about a third to half finished.

“Our capacity to cover ground is a lot better than it was 20 years ago,” Sparks said. “When we get a week of good weather, we can take out a crop in a hurry and deal with more.”

Results appear to be pretty variable, he continued, ranging from very good to below average.

A hot and dry August set some of the crops back, he said, and then there was a period of extensive rainfall that brought its own issues as well in July. According to the National Weather Service, the Indianapolis area got 6.34 inches of rain in July, about 2 inches more than normal. That’s compared to less than 2 inches total in August.

“So you took a little of your best and your worst both,” Sparks said. “Not a record-breaking crop, but it’s going to be an average one I’d say, to maybe a little above. Right now what we need is some sunshine so we can get through harvest. For this time in October, there’s still a lot of beans to be harvested in the county.”

During harvest season, rain is far less forgiving on soybeans than corn, Sparks and Kleiman noted.

“Beans have to dry back down,” Kleiman said. “They just mash in the pod if it’s damp. They won’t break out of the pod, so you lose the bean. Beans are the most critical crop as far as weather.”

Moisture levels in soybeans have been good lately, however, Kleiman continued.

“Right now they’re running really well,” he said.

Lais McCartney, educator for agriculture and natural resources for Purdue Extension Hancock County, also referred to the dry August and its effect on crops, particularly soybeans.

“Some farmers are saying their harvest is not as good as last year,” she said.

She added that too much rain can be just as problematic for farmers as not enough.

“That’s tough, because when it’s wet, they can’t get their machines into the fields,” McCartney said.

Sparks noted using heavy equipment on wet ground compacts the soil, limiting future root growth.

The unpredictability of weather shows how stressful of a profession farming can be, McCartney said.

“They’re at the mercy of things they can’t control,” she added.

While Hancock County experts are predicting an average harvest, the USDA anticipates record-high corn and soybean yields for Indiana this year.

“Favorable temperatures coupled with adequate precipitation pushed predicted average Indiana corn yields up 3 bushels from last month to 197 bushels per acre,” the department’s latest crop forecast for the state reads. “If realized, this will be 10 bushels per acre more than last year and an all-time high.”

Indiana’s soybean yield is forecast at 60 bushels per acre, also a record if realized, according to the report.

Sparks said there were likely parts of the state that got more rain in August than Hancock County and its surrounding area did, leading to better yields.

“One of the things that makes it hard from a marketing perspective is you see what’s out your back door, but you don’t necessarily see the rest of the Corn Belt and state when it relates to those reports,” he said.

He and Kleiman encourage motorists to be mindful as farmers continue their work.

“It’s a busy time of year for us and we try to be good neighbors as we’re traveling the county,” Sparks said. “We try to have a good relationship with motorists. We would love to have that reciprocated from the motorists that we’re meeting as we move this equipment around.”

As one crop season comes to an end, Tucker is already looking to the next. Supply chain issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in a shortage of some chemicals and sent fertilizer prices soaring. If those conditions continue, they’ll strain farmers’ input costs next spring and will do so immediately for those who fertilize fields in the fall.

“That’s going to be a challenge this coming year,” Tucker said. “It’ll be interesting to see if all that gets sorted out by spring. Seed prices are not up much, so that’s not a real big factor, but fertilizer is going to be a big thing if prices stay where they’re at.”
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