Tribune-Courier News Editor
BENTON — Marshall County farmers and agriculture agencies expect a disaster with corn crops after record heat and dry weather.
Dennis Joseph said he farms about 3,500 acres in Marshall County. His crops include corn, popcorn, soybeans and tobacco. He also has a barn where he raises horses.
“Yeah, that’s what I’ve planted in my fields, but I don’t know if anything’s growing,” Joseph said.
Joseph said the heatwave and dry weather came at a critical time in his corn crop. The heat prevented pollination, while lack of rain stunted growth in plants. He looked out on fields full of twisted, desiccated plants. When he pulled back a shuck, he found nothing but an ear with no kernels.
Joseph said early soybeans face similar jeopardy. Second crop soybeans, planted after harvesting winter wheat, could still produce with timely rains.
“We’re looking at an 85 to 95 percent loss, at least with the corn,” Joseph said. “With early beans, we’re going to see probably a 60 to 70 percent loss.”
To explain the enormity of the loss, Joseph said his fields normally yield 150 to 160 bushels of corn. He expects a yield of 5 to 10 bushels-per-acre. His soybean yield is about 40 to 50 bushels per acre. This year, he believes he will be lucky to get 15.
Unlike some farmers, Joseph has crop insurance. He said with insurance, he will likely break even on the 2012 growing season. He expects food prices to rise with many products containing corn or soybeans, and many livestock operations facing high feed costs.
Donna Culp, Marshall County executive director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said a state of emergency has been declared for the region due to the ongoing drought and heat wave. To assist farmers, the USDA is providing livestock operations with water, allowing grazing on conservation reserve program lands and providing low-interest loans.
“We don’t have a relief program in place yet for row-crop farmers,” Culp said. “We are planning some kind of disaster program and are working to streamline it. We’re hoping relief will be quick, but are not sure how long it will take.”
Culp said projections of 10 bushels of corn per-acre were optimistic according to USDA projections, and reflected harvests from low-lying areas.
“This is as bad as I’ve seen,” Culp said. “We’ve had drought situations in the past, but never this long or this bad.”
Mike York, meteorologist for the National Weather Service office in Paducah, said unless the area receives heavy rain before the end of the month, 2012 will remain the driest year on record. Through Monday, the NWS recorded 12.64 inches of rain. The previous record was 1941 with 14.63 inches. This year’s total falls 15.88 inches below the annual average.
York said forecasts call for near or above 100-degree temperatures through Thursday. By Friday, temperatures could fall to the mid-90’s. The NWS has issued an excessive heat warning through Thursday.
The fall in temperatures could bring scattered showers, with some heavy rains or severe weather. York said forecasts call for a 40 percent chance of rain Thursday, a 50 percent chance that evening and a 30 percent chance on Friday.
“The next 30 days call for more of the same. We’ll see higher than average temperatures and lower than average rains,” York said. “There’s hope. We had a bad drought in 1999 that devastated the corn, but beans are a later-maturing crop. With August rains, they could still be saved. Right now, there’s just not much to look forward to.”