Green snap, grasshoppers and other mid-season hazards

Dr. Adam Kantrovich, center, talks with Food Bank staff member Katie Auwers and fellow WMAEC board member Matt Hehl at the farm in March.
Dr. Adam Kantrovich, center, talks with Katie Auwers of the Food Bank and fellow WMAEC board member Matt Hehl at the farm in March.

Dr. Adam Kantrovich, an educator with Michigan State University-Extension, serves as board member and treasurer for the West Michigan Agricultural Education Center, which oversees the Food Bank Farm. We spoke with Adam on his cell phone at the Eastmanville Farm, where the WMAEC board had just wrapped up a meeting. The conversation has been edited and condensed.

We had a drought last summer. How has this summer been by comparison?

We’ve been getting decent rain, except it’s been spotty.

You have a tendency with regard to weather patterns that the spring rains tend to cover a larger area. As you move into late spring and early summer, you see the patterns change where you get less widespread events and more localized events. I’ve stood sometimes out on the road, and you can see and almost smell the rain, but it never hits you. It blows right around you. That’s not atypical for the summer pattern by any means, but that’s what agricultural producers deal with year in and year out. That’s part of the stress of farming.

Is our sweet corn doing pretty well at the Food Bank Farm?

Yes, I would rate it as good. And I’m hoping here in the next week or two with these weather conditions, I would increase the rate to excellent.

One of the other issues we had at the farm was it was predominantly used for grass hay, alfalfa, forages that would essentially be used for cows, and so it had not been cropped in a very long time. It takes a little longer with management of the land to bring it to where we want it to be.

Weed competition will be higher, for example. Every weed species and insect that can affect crops comes at a different time. It’s a never ending process of always having to keep a vigilant eye on those crops in being able to maintain and withstand the competitiveness of weeds and insects and even the deer that love sweet corn.

Corn from the farm's first planting on June 12 is already two feet high.
Corn from the farm’s first planting on June 12 is two feet high and on track for a late August, early September harvest.

What about those 17-year cicadas that are supposed to come out this year?

I wouldn’t be worried about cicadas doing any type of damage out there. They’re more of a sound nuisance than anything else. Anything biblical that might happen would be more grasshoppers, these types of issues. Walking through the field today, I haven’t seen anything jumping.

I’m hoping that because there haven’t been any crops like this planted here in a long time, hopefully they’ve moved off somewhere else.

What’s this phenomenon called “green snap,” and is our corn in any danger?

The plant may go through a growth spurt (caused by higher temperatures and abundant spring rains), and that growth spurt may not necessarily give it the stability to withstand wind, etc. Think of it being like a dried-out, brittle rubber band. We want it to have elasticity so that when the wind bends it over, it’ll be able to come back.

This week’s cool down will actually help mitigate that issue and allow those stalks to strengthen a little bit.

Why does WMAEC believe educating people about farming is important?

It’s very important simply because there are other organizations out there that make an attempt to provide half a story and scare the public. Many people perceive these commercial farming operations as very large corporate undertakings, but in many cases a commercial farm can be a mom-and-pop operation of 100 acres or less, or they can be thousands and thousands of acres and utilize conventional agriculture techniques. There are also some organic operations that are larger than some of the conventional farms.

You want to teach people about the whole spectrum of farming techniques.

The whole spectrum. We do not take any type of side with regards to organic versus conventional. They each serve a purpose, and they each serve a clientele. And we don’t say one is better than the other. There are differences, and those differences have to be valued.