The air was thick as Gouthami Vanam and her mother, Lalitha Ayyala, strolled through the rows of vegetables coming up at the Loyola Retreat and Ecology Campus in Woodstock.
A heavy rainfall earlier in the morning created the same kind of damp conditions that have plagued farmers throughout the area and kept them from planting their seeds in time. Vanam, Ayyala and fellow Woodstock resident Jim Tuft left the farm stand June 28 with a full bag of leafy greens, but one item they hoped to find has been hard to come by at local produce stands and farmers’ markets.
“We’ve been hoping to get tomatoes for a while – since May,” Vanam said.
After an unusually wet and cold spring, local farmers rushed to plant their crops in time, but not all were successful. Illinois farmers now have until July 15 to report the acres they intended to plant this spring but couldn’t because of weather conditions, according to a news release the Illinois Farm Service Agency. The new deadline coincides with the July 15 FSA crop acreage reporting deadline that already is in place, according to the release.
The prevented plant reporting deadline typically comes 15 days after the FSA-established final planting date for a specific crop. The extension to July 15 only applies to FSA and does not change any Risk Management Agency crop insurance reporting deadline requirements, according to the release.
The extension also doesn’t apply to crops covered by the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program. Farmers should check with their local FSA office regarding prevented plant provisions for NAP-covered crops, the release stated.
The inclement weather not only poses a financial threat to farmers, but it also means consumers who rely on locally grown food might have to wait for their sweet corn, tomatoes and other summer favorites, Loyola Retreat and Ecology Campus Farm Operations coordinator Rachel Catlett said.
“We haven’t had warm nights really until this past week, so things got into the ground, but the warmer-season crops have been kind of just sitting there,” she said.
There were only two days suitable for field work during the week ending June 23, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. During that time period, the average temperature statewide was about 69.7 degrees, 3.7 degrees below normal, the USDA reported.
After what Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker called three months of “a seemingly constant wave of storms,” he has issued a state disaster proclamation for 36 counties that continue to recover from flooding. McHenry County is not included in the disaster proclamation.
Illinois Department of Agriculture Director John Sullivan and state FSA director Bill Graff have plans, however, to ask the USDA for a federal disaster declaration that would cover all 102 counties in Illinois, the Illinois Farm Bureau reported Monday.
The number of soybeans planted was at 79% as of June 23, compared with 100% last year and the five-year average of 97%, according to the USDA. Additionally, the amount of winter wheat harvested was 15%, compared with 61% last year and 47% for the five-year average, according to the USDA.
Use of cover crops and other measures have offered farmers some solace this season.
“In farming you have to be super flexible and be able to pivot and work with Mother Nature, but this has been strange,” Catlett said.
Last month, the IDOA announced its Prevented Planting Cover Crop incentive program – one of two cover crop programs administered through the IDOA this year, according to a news release.
Farmers who qualify for the program must have chosen the “prevented planting” option in their USDA Risk Management Agency crop insurance program for 2019 and use cover crops on their prevented planting acres for weed control, the release stated.
The incentive program has been allotted $400,000 to help ease some of the pressure farmers face this season, Sullivan said in an official statement,
“Due to a high number of farmers taking Prevented Planting, we felt a cover crop initiative would benefit farmers and the soil – a win/win for both,” Sullivan said. “Cover crops help to control weeds on the Prevented Planting acres, conserve and prevent erosion of the soil and reduce nutrient runoff while the land lays fallow for the next growing season.”
Catlett said her situation is unique on the Loyola Retreat campus, which offers meeting spaces, dining and team-building exercises. The retreat’s on-site restaurant and greenhouse offer alternative ways to move produce or harvest it during less-than-desirable weather. She’s also gotten creative with the kinds of plants they grow, following Mother Nature’s lead.
“With in-ground beds, we get stuff in the ground in here and have some other options,” Catlett said. “I do have some peppers and eggplants and stuff in the greenhouse.”
Although Vanam was hoping for tomatoes during her June 28 trip to the Woodstock farm stand, she came across a pleasant surprise she hasn’t been able to find elsewhere. Vanam filled her bag with sorrel, a perennial herb common in Indian dishes that Vanam struggled to find while she lived in Chicago.
“I haven’t seen it for 10 years, and I came here last week for the first time and it’s here,” Vanam said.