MCBAIN — The first killing frost at the end of summer is always a concern, as it halts the growth of corn and forces farmers to begin harvest.
This year, that concern is a full-blown worry.
With the cold, wet spring delaying the planting of corn for many in Northern Michigan, farmers are hoping and praying for a long growing season without an early killing frost.
Tustin-area farmer Amy Martin said they like to have their corn in the ground by mid-May but this year weren't able to finish planting until almost mid-July.
Martin said the corn should be mature enough to harvest by the end of September, which is cutting it very close to the time they start seeing freezing conditions overnight.
If corn growth is halted before it reaches maturity, Martin said it affects its nutritional quality and forces them to buy supplemental corn to feed their cattle.
They already spend about $8,000-$10,000 per month on corn feed this year due to a poor growing season last year and would rather not have to keep spending this money.
"We'd like to stop the bleeding," Martin said.
McBain farmer Mike VanPolen said it seems as though spring lasts later and later into the season than it used to.
"I don't even know what average (planting time for corn) is anymore," VanPolen said. "The last five to 10 years we've had a lot of challenges."
Like Martin, VanPolen said they are several weeks behind on corn and predicted it could be mid-October before they are able to harvest.
As a rule of thumb, VanPolen said he likes to have corn planted by Memorial Day but with the late planting pushing harvest into the fall, it's possible the quality of his corn could be severely impacted by frost.
When cattle aren't given quality feed, it affects their production of milk, which affects the farm's bottom line.
Making matters worse this year was the impact weather conditions had on forage crops like alfalfa, which also are an integral part of a cow's diet.
Martin said they lost about 40% of their alfalfa crop because of scant snow cover during winter and wet conditions in the spring, which prevented a timely harvest, causing the crop to rot in the fields.
This, in turn, forced them to re-fertilize and re-seed their fields at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Since many farms experienced loss in their forage crops, Martin said it won't be easy to find substitutes and what they are able to find will be very expensive.
MSU Extension Field Crop Educator Paul Gross said many farmers in the region are going through the same challenges as Martin and VanPolen.
"The question farmers are asking themselves is, 'are we going to have enough time,'" Gross said.
The good news for Northern Michigan, however, is that weather conditions have stabilized since the spring, bringing decent warmth and moisture.
Areas south of here, including Isabella County, haven't been so fortunate and are experiencing some drought right now, Gross said.
On Monday, farmers could begin applying for financial assistance from the federal government to help them recoup some losses they've suffered from the ongoing tariff dispute with China and other countries.
Gross said he believes most farmers in this area will take advantage of this assistance, which he thinks will be a big help.
Through the program, farmers will be paid based on the number of acres they planted, the number of animals they raise, the location of their farm and other factors.
For more information on the program, visit www.farmers.gov/mfp or contact your local Farm Service Agency office at (231) 757-3707 in Lake County or (231) 775-7681 in Missaukee, Osceola or Wexford counties.