Posted on

DROUGHT

DROUGHT
DROUGHT
"This ear of corn should be about twice as long and much heavier," said Jerry Dryden.

A shortage of rain and high summer temperatures have left farmers throughout Harrison County with acres of undeveloped corn and soybeans and a profit picture that looks dismal.
Crop conditions vary according to the farm’s location. Farmers around Elizabeth, in the southern part of the county, say their crops have dried up due to lack of rain, while farmers northwest of Corydon say they are doing a little better, because of sporadic rain. All county farmers agree crop yields will be meager this year.
Harrison County Purdue Extension Agent Gerald W. Dryden agrees that there has been substantial damage to the crops and grain yields will be significantly lower.
“We had a lot of rain in the spring, and the farmers who planted early were less bothered by the dry weather than those who planted later in the spring,” Dryden said. “The crops planted early were already pretty well established by the time it got really dry.”
Dryden estimates there are 200 to 300 farms in Harrison County where farming makes up a significant part of the income stream. Combined, these farmers typically plant about 20,000 acres of soybeans and 25,000 acres of corn each year.
“Some farmers have crop insurance, and that will help them,” Dryden said, “but this year’s crop will affect the producer’s ability to fund a new crop next year.”
Dryden estimated that it costs a farmer about $125 an acre to plant a crop. If he plants 500 acres, he could have invested $50,000 to $60,000.
“Farming is a high-risk business with not much of a profit margin,” Dryden said. “In an average year, a farmer might make only a few cents on a bushel of grain. The economy of scale dictates they have to farm a lot of acres to make anything.”
Some farmers have given up on the grain crop. “Because the grain didn’t develop, some farmers in the county will cut their corn for silage and their soybeans for hay to feed to their livestock during the winter because there won’t be much of a grain harvest here,” Dryden said as he opened a soybean pod that produced only three small beans instead of the usual five or six.
“In some areas, farmers have had to already begin feeding their herds because of a lack of grass growing in the pastures.”
By the first of July, farmers have usually cut and baled enough hay for the winter. Around here, however, not much extra hay has grown since then.
“Hay and silage is not worth much to the farmers. What they want is a crop that they can take to market,” Dryden said. “That’s going to be tough to do this year.”
James Goldman, a county commissioner, has a dairy farm in the Moberly neighborhood, about eight miles northeast of Corydon. Compared to some farms in the southern part of the county, his crops are doing pretty good.
“Our crop won’t be a bumper crop this year, but I’m fortunate I have any crop at all,” Goldman said. “We were fortunate enough to get an inch of rain during fair week, and that helped a lot. Because of the dry weather, the hay is still short and not nearly what it should be.”
Goldman said a farmer, James Laplant from Elizabeth, buys Holstein bull calves from him. Laplant visited Goldman’s farm recently and told him the difference was “like going to another country.”
“My neighbors to the south are really suffering, and I feel for them,” Goldman said. “I’ve been there, and it’s no fun.”
“This has been the longest extended dry period I can remember,” said Laplant, who raises beef cattle and tobacco with his three sons.
“I’m 63 years old and have been farming all my life and have never seen it so dry for so long. I have had to feed my cattle hay that was harvested earlier in the spring because there is no grass in the pastures. Everything has dried up.”
Laplant said he has enough hay to feed his 60 brood cows through the winter, but rain is needed by the middle of September so he can seed and fertilize his fields to produce next year’s hay crop.
“We have three acres of tobacco that is doing fairly well. It won’t be our best crop, and it won’t be our worst crop,” Laplant said. “We’ll make some, but this tobacco won’t bring us top dollar.”
Ralph Gann, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Indiana statistician, said that between April 1, the beginning of the agricultural season, and June 9, about 18 inches of rain fell here. Since then, rainfall has been less than normal.
Rainfall statistics collected in Palmyra through the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) show that rainfall for June was 63 percent of normal, 48 percent of normal in July, and 78 percent of normal in August.
“While there was more rainfall in August, it came so late in the month that the crops were past being helped,” Gann said. “Even heavy rains wouldn’t help the crops now.”
Dryden explained that soy beans and corn are “day-length sensitive” and need rain when the days are the longest so that sugars can be produced to fill out the ears and pods. That usually happens from early July to the middle of August.
“Even if we were to get a lot of rain now, the crops could not produce any grain because the growing season is over,” Dryden said. “It’s a matter of simple photosynthesis.”
With corn, Dryden said, the amount of green leaf area or green plant tissue determines the amount of grain that develops. When it’s hot with little moisture, the leaves and stalks dry up. This damage makes the plants susceptible to disease and pests, and the sugars are not produced.
In Dogwood, beef farmer Don Seipel, 70, was cutting alfalfa Friday morning. He said the plants should have been 15 to 18 inches tall, but now they’re hardly worth cutting and bailing.
“This is the third time I’ve cut this field this year, and I should have been able to cut it four or five times already,” Seipel said.
“The ground is so dry there are cracks big enough to put your hand in. We’ve only had two heavy rains this summer.”
Seipel said it would take four or five inches of rain between now and the end of September to make it worth cutting the field again.
Alfalfa normally yields four to five tons per acre per year, but this year the field will produce a little more than two tons per acre.
Seipel raises beef cattle and has 50 brood cows on his 350-acre farm. “I have had to feed the cows since mid-July because there is no hay in the fields,” Seipel said.
He also raises corn. The ears are small and light, about half normal size. “I tested the corn and figure I’ll get about 17 bushels an acre,” Seipel said. “The ears are small and the kernels are light and about the size of popcorn. Last year I got about 180 bushels an acre from this land,” Seipel said. “I have crop insurance on the corn, so I’ll get something.”
“Don is one of the best farmers I know,” said Dryden, while looking at a field full of brown corn stalks with ears hanging down drying for harvest.
“He is able to get good yields off marginal land, and he was able to get some of his corn planted early this spring when we had a lot of rain. That will give him some yield, but the corn planted later won’t amount to much.”

LATEST NEWS