COLUMBIA CITY — It has been a slow start to the planting season for farmers in Whitley County and throughout the region, but planting is picking up.

Rainfall in May left the fields too wet for planting. Since then, farmers are using every available dry day to make progress.

“The United States Department of Agriculture said in its May 28 Indiana Crop Progress and Condition Report that corn is 22% planted in Indiana, compared with 94% last year, and 85% for the recent 5-year average,” Whitley County Extension Educator John Woodmansee said.

Soybeans were 11% planted, compared with 85% last year and 63% for the recent 5-year average.

“My estimation is that Whitley County, along with many regional counties, are well below the state average,” Woodmansee said in an interview last week. “It’s the worst I can recall in my lifetime in terms of delaying nearly all field operations to date, except for farmers on sandy soils up north.”

While rain is welcome to help crops grow to maturity, too much rain too early creates problems in the field and potentially for the final yield.

“When fields are too wet, they don’t support tractors and field equipment,” Woodmansee explained. “Even when it looks dry on top, a saturated soil down a few inches makes field operations impossible. Entering fields too wet with heavy equipment (if you don’t get stuck) will cause soil compaction, the negative effects of which will linger for years.”

But it isn’t just too much rain that carries consequences for farmers. Dry conditions are also a detriment to agriculture.

“We’ve also had the converse of this year’s situation — soils so dry that seeds cannot imbibe enough water to germinate,” Woodmansee said.

The loss of planting time in mid-March means that there will be less yield come harvest time. Woodmansee said corn yield decreases by one to two bushes per day.

“What we don’t know is what the actual yield of a delayed-planted crop will be,” he said. “That will depend on growing conditions and many other factors through the end of the season. We have had years of delayed planting where the final yields surprised us to the good.”

Too wet conditions can also lead to insect infestations and disease. Fusarium head blight (scab) of wheat may be a concern this year, depending on weather conditions at flowering time, Woodmansee said.

Purdue specialist Darcy Telenko cautions growers to be on the lookout for septoria and rust. Woodmansee said Telenko was concerned about tar spot in corn and white mold in beans as potential diseases this year.

When the forecast finally showed periods of dry spells, farmers were quick to get busy.

“I’m sure every farmer had equipment ready to go at the first possible opportunity,” Woodmansee said. “I would also encourage everyone to not cut corners with regard to safety. Long hours will be required to get crops planted in a short time, and growers may be looking to cut corners and speed everything along at the fastest pace. That tends to be when accidents happen.”

Reaching out for help or advice is also important, he said. That includes crop insurance agents, Farm Service Agency personnel, farm loan officers, seed dealers, agronomists and others.

And for the general public: “help by being patient with farmers and equipment on the roads,” Woodmansee suggested.

At this time, there has not been disaster declaration declared for Whitley County.

“The Farm Service Agency declares disaster designations on a county basis,” said Jennifer Bolinger, executive director of the county farm bureau office. “Each county will have varying disaster designations across the state.”

The Farm Bureau routinely provides programs to help offset the loss of crops due to natural disasters and other factors.

According to data compiled by the National Weather Service, the Fort Wayne area had rainfall totals of 5.5 inches for April. The record is 7.19 inches in 1944. In May, 3.82 inches of rain fell in the Fort Wayne region, with May 2011 holding the record for 10.17 inches.

In addition to the rainfall totals, cooler temperatures than normal also played a role in delaying the planting, extension service agriculture agents said.