Western Pennsylvania's soggy summer ideal for corn

Overall, weather has been tough on crops

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It hasn't been an ideal summer for sunbathers, swimmers and other creatures who prefer hot, dry weather. But at least it's been easy on the ears.

Ears of corn, that is.

While farmers have struggled to plant and harvest crops and dry out their hay for baling, the wet weather has been favorable for corn.

"Our sweet corn crop is very good this year," said Scott Simmons, co-owner of Simmons Farm in McMurray. "A kind of year like this I'll take anytime for corn."

Heather Mikulas, program manager for community-based agriculture at Penn State Extension, agreed that it has been a good year for the kernel, but said many farmers struggled during the wetter-than-normal June and July to get crops planted. Now that things have dried up -- rainfall for the first half of August was 1.2 inches below normal -- they're working hard to catch up, she said.

National Weather Service meteorologist Lee Hendricks said that aside from a splash or two of rain early next week, he expects dry weather to persist over the short term.

The weekend forecast calls for temperatures in the high 70s and no rain until after 2 a.m. Monday.

If the rain holds off through Sunday night, it would be only the third weekend since Memorial Day completely free of rain. More than 6 inches fell in July and nearly 5.5 inches in June, giving us 3.5 inches more than normal for the two months.

"We struggled there when it was raining so much," Mr. Simmons said. "We did have some crop losses," particularly with vine crops like cucumbers and zucchini that are susceptible to excessive moisture, he said.

The rain also delayed corn planting, which must be done weekly to ensure a steady supply, he said. "I'm not going to complain too much. We were really dry last summer."

"This has been an unusual summer," Mr. Hendricks said. "Unusual in the amount of precipitation, and if you remove a couple of hot spells from the big picture, things have been relatively cool."

Average temperatures were slightly above normal in June and July, propped up by a five-day stretch in June of highs of 85 or more and a five-day period of plus-90 weather in July. As of Friday, the average temperature for August was 3.1 degrees below normal.

Mr. Hendricks said farmers need at least three straight dry days to cut and bale hay. "If you cut it and it rains on it, you just ruined it," he said.

One farmer in Washington County is 50 percent behind schedule in baling, he said. "That quickly equates to money out of their pockets. If they don't have it, they have to buy it."

"There never is an ordinary year [for farmers] anymore," Ms. Mikulas said. "It seems that one way or another, it's unusual. Year to year, it's which battle we're going to be fighting. The last couple weeks have been good. People have been playing catch-up and really working long, long days to get their full planting in."

The good summer for corn will translate into some tasty (and free) eating on Monday at the 2013 Pittsburgh Citiparks Corn Roast at the East Liberty Farmers Market, 5800 Penn Circle West. From 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., chef Bill Fuller of the Big Burrito Restaurant Group will roast corn samples provided by local farmers. Local musician Elliott Sussman will perform.

Maybe it won't rain.


Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868.


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