Jason Smith, Wolcott Mill Metropark, Supervising Interpreter Farm and Historic Center
The days are getting noticeable shorter, the average temperatures are dropping by the week, and the leaves on the trees are fewer and fewer with each passing day. Many of us are winding down from our summer adventures and preparing ourselves for the upcoming winter ahead, but farmers throughout Michigan are hard at work harvesting and storing the crops they have worked so hard to grow throughout the season.
This spring was an incredibly difficult one, across Michigan, when it came to weather and its effects will be felt long after the snow flies. The rainfall that occurred in April and May, along with the cooler temperatures, created multiple headaches for farmers throughout the region. Many in agriculture struggled to get in their fields due to the muddy conditions and acres of crop land had to be planted late, or worse, were never planted at all. Even if a farmer was lucky enough to traverse a field with their planter, future rains delayed or prohibited proper germination of any planted seeds. Even crops that were already planted and growing suffered from the over abundance of rain. Alfalfa fields overripened while farmers waited for the ground to dry. Through all the springtime challenges, however, farmers pushed on and worked diligently to nurture their crops.
Summer brought a new set of challenges, and even more concern over what the fall harvest may be. Many farmers had to adapt and overcome the obstacles of the spring by adjusting the variety of, or even type of crops they planted to salvage the remaining months of the growing season. Once the seeds were in the ground and germinated, they only had a few weeks to grow before the summer dry season began. Like the effects of the spring rains, plant growth was now stunted by the lack of precipitation. The adage “Knee high by the Fourth of July,” used as an unofficial marker to how well a corn crop is growing, was something to celebrate if you even came close. Even though many fields lagged by a few weeks, fortunately for crops like corn and soybeans, the summer heat posed less of a threat once the plants had a bit of time to establish themselves. Midway through the growing season, many farmers were looking ahead to fall harvest and wondering if the crops they are growing would mature in time.
At the Wolcott Mill Metropark Farm Center we were not immune to the effects of weather on our crop fields either. We had over 100 acres dedicated to growing feed for our animals and for produce to sell. The wet spring caused a delay in our corn planting and as a result, some of our fields took a lot longer to reach maturity. This could be seen up close in our corn maze, where some of the twists and turns were easily spotted over the 4 ft tall corn stalks. Or in our pumpkin patch, where the dry summer days caused pumpkins to grow a bit smaller and ripen a bit earlier. Even our hay fields, over ripened due to the later than normal first cutting harvest, lacked height and volume at the time of the second cutting due to the summer heat and lack of precipitation. Despite the obstacles, we were still able to have moderate success in our harvest. Although yields were lower and it took more acres to accomplish our goal, we were able to fill the barns, and the silos, and our corn and soybean harvest look to be the best they could be given the challenges of the season.
The fall harvest signifies the culmination of months of planning, weeks of tending, and many hours behind the wheel of a truck or tractor, all the while knowing that so many mouths are counting on the harvest for survival. Even though rain yet again threatens their ability to get in their fields, farmers will continue to push on until the last of the crops are harvested and the equipment is put away for the winter. There will be no time to rest though, because just as the snow begins to fall, many farmers will begin preparing to start the process all over again. Evaluating this season and planning the next, hoping for cooperation from the weather, all the while thinking ahead to the next fall harvest.