The big story in rural America these days, of course, is Mother Nature and a report released this week revealed more of the United States is sweltering through drought than at any time in the past 50 years.
Nearly two-thirds of the continental U.S. is in moderate to extreme drought. That's the most since December of 1956.
This year, 80 percent of the nation is abnormally dry, and last month was the 14th warmest and 10th driest June on records dating back to 1895.
While pasture and rangeland has deteriorated at an alarming rate, America’s row crops have been especially hard hit. We begin our drought roundup this week in the eastern Corn Belt.
Indiana isn’t immune from the drought of 2012. In fact, the nation’s 5th largest corn-producing state may be in the worst condition of all. According to USDA, 92 percent of the crop is rated in fair to very poor condition.
One of the three pockets considered worst in the state, is in Allen County near Fort Wayne, where the corn is stressed, if it is even alive.
Dr. Bob Nielsen, Purdue Extension Corn Agronomist: “This is the big fear around the state now where drought stress is really severe, is that, even with rain on a field like this tonight, pollen shed is so far advanced now, out in this little area of the field, that a good soaking rain tonight would have minimal impact because so much of the damage has already been done.”
Randy Kron: Evansville, IN: "We're in the southern part of Gibson County in southwest Indiana. So what you're seeing here is the experience of the dry weather we've had from starting this spring to now here in mid-July, There's just been very little rainfall. I've lived through 1983 and 1988, this year is a lot drier. One, its a lot drier and two the dryness started a lot earlier in the season than the other two years. 50% of our normal yield is going to be the high water mark this year and on down to almost down to zero."
More than half of Indiana’s 92 counties are now eligible for federal disaster aid.
Rain did fall on some portions of the Hoosier State late this week, but for most producers, it’s too little, too late.
Soybeans aren’t in much better shape. USDA rates 89 percent of the Indiana crop as fair to very poor. And long-term relief is absent from the forecast.
Brad Rippey, USDA Meteorologist: “Unfortunately, it looks like the dome of high pressure that has been dominating the continental United States will continue to park itself over the Plains and parts of the Midwest for at least the next two weeks. More than likely this will persist through the remainder of the 2012 crop season.”
Illinois also is sweltering in the arid conditions. 89 percent of the corn is in the fair to very poor category. Some producers have already mowed down their fields, leaving only a sample behind for insurance purposes.
While a record harvest was predicted, the reality of a lost crop is sinking in.
Rodney Byars: Illinois Farmers: "It’s disheartening. The expense to put out a crop these is so high that trying to average a few years to cover a year like this (is) not feasible."
Further west in Iowa, the damage is less obvious. Generally, the crop looks good from the road but when you get deeper into the field the impact becomes clear.
Planting high populations of corn, Wayne Humphreys recorded 258 bushels per acre four years ago in this Southeastern Iowa corn field. But this season things are different.
Wayne Humphreys, Iowa Corn Promotion Board, Columbus Junction, Iowa: “An acre of those at 30,000 plants will yield 65/70 bushels an acre and that is right in the same row, right in the same variety planted, within a split second of each other. So, I think it is going to be very hard to estimate ahead of time. It is going to be very difficult ahead of the combine to ascertain what to expect from - from this row of corn from this field of corn.”
So far, none of the top corn-producing state’s 99 counties have been declared disaster areas. Iowa Governor Terry Branstad has been working on an emergency drought plan since February and has asked the Agriculture Department for assistance.
Gov. Terry Branstad, R-Iowa: “I've already sent a letter to Secretary Vilsack expressing my interest in seeing swift action and a Secretary's designation on drought for the counties that are effected here in eastern iowa. Everyday that goes by with temperatures like we have today nearing a hundred degrees and without additional rain the crop continues, both corn and soybeans, continue to deteriorate.”
As the drought intensified in some parts of the Hawkeye State this week, Branstad held an open forum for farmers.
Bill Tentinger, President, Iowa Pork Producers Association, LeMars, Iowa: “Just plain common sense tells us that this is going to take a year or more to turn this thing around. I predict that we will lose independent family owned, probably younger, producers. I have personally received several phone calls already from
individual producers that are asking, 'What can I do.'"
Despite reductions, this year’s corn crop is still predicted to be the third-largest on record. Nevertheless, many are worried about the ripple effect fewer bushels will have on the rural economy.
John Heisdorffer, President, Iowa Soybean Association, Keota, Iowa: “My fear is that if the farmers are not going to order from the dealer, the dealers not going to order from his supplier and there's a possiblity of a shortage this spring. I did talk to my equipment dealer yesterday and he mentioned that he's had three people come and say they didn't want the pieces of equipment that they were supposed to buy. I think this is probably going to continue. Everybody wants to wait and see. You know, We get a crop, we get rain, it'll all make a difference. ”