Farmers need to gear up for more rain

(Photo: Getty Images)

COLUMBUS, Ohio—Weather extremes like those during 2018, much more rain, and heavier downpours are likely to become the norm rather than the exception in Ohio, according to a climate expert with The Ohio State University.

As a result, the state's farmers will have to deal with more and more water pouring onto and running off of their fields, and that could threaten the quality of water downstream, said Aaron Wilson, climate specialist with the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

Last year was the third wettest year ever in Ohio. Temperatures have been getting warmer across the Midwest, with the coldest temperature in the year now up 3 degrees from what it was in the first half of the 20th century, Wilson said. Warmer temperatures have led to a greater amount of water vapor in the atmosphere and increased rainfall.

Intense rain events are more common now. On Aug. 4, nearly 2 ½ inches of rain fell in one hour near Cincinnati, and from Sept. 8–9, nearly 7 ½ inches of rain fell in Brookville, just east of Dayton.

“The question is, what do we do with it? How do we steward that water?” Wilson asked.

Wilson spoke of recent weather trends during the Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference from March 5–6 in Ada, Ohio. The annual conference drew 824 people and offered a series of speakers on topics including soil health, nutrient management, and cover crops. The conference is one many educational offerings that CFAES provides to Ohio farmers, whose contributions are being celebrated this week as part of Ohio Agriculture Week.

Increased rainfall in Ohio is contributing to the load of nutrients, such as phosphorous and nitrogen, entering Lake Erie and other bodies of water, Wilson said. In 2017, Lake Erie recorded its third largest harmful algal bloom ever reported. Phosphorus runoff is a main driver of the lake’s blooms.

Farmers might want to look into other measures – such as a second ditch, cover crops, an underground drainage system, and other conservation practices – for handling the additional water, he said.

“I don’t think we should ever look at a single solution to a problem,” Wilson said.

The increase in the amount of annual rainfall in Ohio ranges from 5–15 percent, he said.

Saturated fields keep farmers out of them. Work days have been lost due to rain, with an average of five days lost in April and an additional five in October, both important months for farmers for planting and harvesting, Wilson said.

Besides the additional rain and a warmer winter, on average, summer days tend to not be as hot, but summer nights cool down less than they used to, Wilson said. Daytime temperatures across the Midwest, on average, are a little over 2 degrees cooler now compared to those in the first half of the 20th century.

These weather trends are leading to additional stress on livestock, more insects surviving through the winter, and more weeds, Wilson said.

“The changing climate we’re seeing makes the job of a farmer more difficult,” he said.

CFAES News Team
For more information, contact: 

Aaron Wilson
(614) 292-7930