farm

CORY BYKNISH | Herald

Full-grown corn fills a field in New Wilmington. Many area farmers weren't so lucky, as wet weather this year caused stunted corn or kept crops from being planted at all. Now federal disaster aid is available to them.

Ever since heavy rains in May and June postponed planting, many Mercer County farmers suspected the 2019 growing season would be a disaster.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has now made it official.

The USDA issued a farming disaster declaration for counties in Ohio, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture reported Tuesday. The designation allows farmers from bordering counties in Pennsylvania, Indiana and West Virginia to apply for federal disaster aid stemming from lost crops.

Under the state Department of Agriculture declaration, farmers in Mercer, Crawford, Lawrence, Beaver and Erie counties can seek assistance through local Farm Service agencies.

Farmers in the covered counties can qualify for emergency aid, including loans, depending on eligibility requirements.

"If the wet weather put a damper on your growing season, I encourage you to check with your local Farm Service Agency team to see how they can help," said Russell Redding, secretary of the state Department of Agriculture.

Michael Kovach, vice president of the Pennsylvania Farmers Union, said he has seen first-hand the impact of heavy spring rains on planting.

"If you drive around Mercer and Trumbull counties, you'll see a lot of stunted corn," he said.

Mercer County received 6.75 inches of rain in June, according to the AccuWeather service, based in State College. That figure is almost 50 percent more than the county's June average of 4.61 inches.

Kovach, a livestock farmer in South Pymatuning Township, wasn't directly affected by the heavy rains, but plenty of his neighbors were. He said the storms forced crop farmers to delay planting, a practice known as prevent planting.

"I have a lot of neighbors who have had marginal crops," he said. "And a lot of crops were never planted."

Often, when weather conditions delay planting to the point where a longer growing season crop like corn becomes impractical, farmers often plant what's called a "cover crop," plants that mature more quickly. But Kovach said crop insurance providers sometimes require planters to grow corn in corn fields, "even if it was fruitless to do it."

With the disaster declaration, farmers will be able to get help. Kovach called that "great news."

"Hopefully, this gives farmers a shot at remaining solvent," he said.

Follow Eric Poole on Facebook and Twitter @HeraldEricPoole. Email him at epoole@sharonherald.com

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