This has been a summer for lawn-mowing enthusiasts. Intermittent soaking rains have kept sod well-watered and helped grass grow. But too much of a good thing often isn’t good.
A wetter than average June, followed by July rainfall totals that are already above average for the area, have resulted in more problems than benefits for area residents. Grass is growing, but at a rate that’s a challenge to keep up with, even for the most ambitious mowing enthusiasts.
Plants are growing, but not as well as some might think. Brenda Dahlfors, Master Gardener Program coordinator for the University of Illinois Extension in Woodstock, said, “We are seeing a lot of fungal diseases on plants,” she said. She also pointed out that vegetables such as tomatoes like heat, and numerous cloud-covered days have created a less-than-ideal growing season for garden plants.
Farmers are saying the same thing, citing the lack of sunlight as delaying the natural plant-maturation process. Harry Alten farms about 600 acres of corn and soybeans with his brother southwest of Harvard. He said it was a challenge planting crops this spring, and, now, standing water in areas of fields has stunted the growth of some crops. Muddy field conditions also have made it difficult to get the equipment to spray weeds in fields.
He said he predicts the abundance of rain might push harvest later in the fall and could result in more crop drying costs. He estimated yields could be down 2 to 3 percent already.
“If it’s a decent August with normal rain and more sunshine,” he said, “things might turn around.”
The summer has been even more of a challenge for hay producers. “It’s a joke,” said Harvard dairy farmer Brandon Walter. “You need a minimum of three days without rain and warm temperatures to dry and bale it. Most guys don’t want to cut when they’re calling for rain.”
With measurable rain at least a couple of times per week, a lot of hay fields are being cut later in the season than usual, resulting in grasses and legumes that are past the proper stage of maturity. This overripe plant material has a lower nutritional value. For Walter, this means lower quality feed for his dairy herd and, ultimately, lower milk production.
Even daily management of the cattle is more difficult with the frequent rain. “Everything’s a mud hole,” he said. “The mud also makes the herd more vulnerable to diseases. Plus, it’s just hard to keep them clean.”
Recreational activities such as softball leagues and swimming have suffered as well. Woodstock Recreation Director Dave Zinnen reported attendance is down about 10,000 visitors from average for this time of the year at Woodstock Water Works, noting the biggest drop is in general admission. He cited a significant number of days with rain or rain in the forecast as the reason users aren’t coming out to swim.
“The rain has been a challenge all around,” he said. Closing the pool because of inclement weather affects the lifeguard staff, mostly students who rely on the job as their only source of summer income. Even pool maintenance is negatively impacted each time an inch or more of rainwater falls in the pools.
For the city, Woodstock Director of Public Works Jeff Van Landuyt said the biggest impact of the soggy summer has been increased park and lawn maintenance since the grass has been growing so fast. However, he said, his staff has caught a break on watering the plantings and flowerbeds in the Square.
The reduction in lawn watering by city residents also has decreased the burden on the wastewater treatment plant, and although the Woodstock area has received more than 10 inches of rain in the last two months, he said there hasn’t been any significant flooding, power outages or fallen tree damage.
He said, “I hate to complain about the rain. Then we get a drought.”