Business

Wild weather could change what you find at the grocery store

Posted June 7, 2018 3:58 p.m. EDT

DAYTON, Ohio -- April's chilly weather and May's rare heat continue to impact Ohio crops such as strawberries, corn and soybeans. That could change what buyers see in stores, but farmers say innovations allow them to start later and still produce quality crops.

April was the fourth-coldest on record in the region, and May was the warmest since 1944. The cold delayed the planting of corn, and the heat has impacted crops such as strawberries and lettuce.

The unseasonably warm temperatures are making the strawberries ripen faster than usual, affecting farms in both Troy and Butler Twp.

"Now we're noticing the berries getting smaller and smaller, and you'll see that happen throughout the year," said Joe Fulton of Fulton Farms in Troy.

Temperatures have consistently risen into the mid-80s, with heat indices of 90 degrees or more, in recent weeks. A cooler stretch started the month of June.

Some are racing to battle the effects. Monnin's Fruit Farm workers had 3,000 people from all over the region picking strawberries during Memorial Day weekend to avoid waste, but it will need more pickers in the coming weeks if the heat keeps up.

"Lack of rain and hot weather have just brought (the strawberries) all on at the same time, and we need as many (people) out here as possible so they don't rot in the field," said Nick Monnin of Monnin's Fruit Farm, in Troy.

Ohio Farm Bureau spokesman Joe Cornely said the cold April delayed the planting of corn by a few days, but most farmers were able to catch up when the weather changed.

In Northwest Ohio, though, farmers are further behind. Rain delayed planting, and farmers are just now able to start work in the field. Those farmers will have to decide whether to take a risk and plant their crops or rely on insurance to cover their losses.

If those farmers choose not to plant, Cornely said it likely won't impact prices for consumers too much. Any economic impact will be local.

Many operations diversify to avoid challenges in such conditions. Doug Seibert, an owner of Peach Mountain Organics in Spring Valley, Ohio, said the farm grows about 100 different crops, so when one fails, the damage isn't extreme. Last year, flooding destroyed the potatoes, but the farm made up with other crops.

"There's resilience built into the system," he said.

Some weather events such as hail or extreme winds can damage a variety of crops, but the effects of very hot or cold weather vary. Seibert's lettuce has been damaged by the high temperatures. His onions, garlic and potatoes are doing well.

Cornely said weather patterns have narrowed the window in which farmers can plant their crops, but technological advances have allowed them to plant faster.

"We'll never weatherproof agriculture," he said. "But if my grandfather hadn't planted his corn by now, he'd have a disaster. Now we might still have a very good season."

Overall, farmers are used to adapting to weather, Cornely said. Seibert said the weather has an impact on his crops every year, in some way.

"Most of us have enough respect for Mother Nature not to be too surprised by anything," Seibert said.

Bailey Gallion writes for the Dayton Daily News. Email: Bailey.Gallion(at)coxinc.com.

Story Filed By Cox Newspapers

For Use By Clients of the New York Times News Service