Wednesday, August 01, 2012

A Poor Corn Crop in Christian County

Effects of the drought 

A Christian County (KY) cornfield at Memorial Day
The corn crop in Christian County, KY, looked promising at the end of May when I took this photo. Farmers had planted earlier than usual due to the mild winter, and many fields were already well beyond "knee-high." Newspaper reports predicted a record-breaking year in corn production in Kentucky.

The price of corn has been kept high in recent years by the production of corn ethanol. Also, China and other densely populated countries buy corn to help feed the masses, thus driving up corn prices further.   Apparently excited by high corn prices. one of our neighbors harvested his wheat this spring before it looked ready and quickly planted corn in the stubble, (Then he accidentally burned the little corn plants with fertilizer -- which was probably both frustrating and embarrassing.)

We had a dryer-than-usual winter and spring in 2012, but if we had received a few generous rains in June, we could still have had a good corn crop. Even our neighbor's fertilizer-burned corn was looking pretty good. But we had an exceptionally hot June (day after day of 100° or more) with just a few sprinkles of rain. By the beginning of July, when the corn in Christian County should have been growing big, full ears, many fields were already dying from the drought.

USDA image for week of July 28, 2012
Now Christian County is officially in Level 2 (severe) drought. Our neighbor, who planted corn in his wheat stubble last spring, went out to his field one day in July and chopped it for silage. He's facing a hay shortage for his livestock and he probably didn't have crop insurance. I've noticed several other cornfields that have been chopped or baled. Cattle feed of any sort will probably fetch a high price this fall and winter. The grass, like the corn, has had a very bad year.

When we have a corn crop failure in Christian County, it takes millions of bushels of corn out of the market. We grew almost 11 million bushels of corn in 2011, but the crop this year will be much less than that. And the drought extends across most of the U.S. -- in fact, many areas are dryer than Christian County. The entire harvest of food in the United States this year is going to be a lot smaller.

A very dry pasture in the Missouri Ozarks, July 2012
I've read several articles about how the drought will affect grocery prices. There doesn't seem to be much agreement, so I'll stick with government figures. The USDA is projecting a 3 to 4% increase in most food prices (and something more than that in meat prices) as a direct effect of the drought this summer.

Some agricultural experts are urging the U.S. to lower its requirements (quotas) for ethanol production so that more corn will be available for food worldwide. Russia is also experiencing a drought.

The federal government is offering some emergency assistance to Kentucky farmers in drought stricken areas. Low interest emergency loans are available. Conservation Reserve Program lands may be used for hay or pasture with some restrictions and conditions. Crop insurance providers have been asked to voluntarily offer farmers an extra month before charging interest on the unpaid portion of crop insurance premiums.

The Climate Prediction Center sees little rain in the near future for Kentucky. The drought is expected to continue through October.


ebrake said...

The farm next to where I work planted corn and tobacco side by side. Like everybody else the corn is in very poor shape but the tobacco is doing much better.

Genevieve said...

Tobacco is much more drought-resistant than corn. The leaves might not grow as big, but the plants don't die.

I've seen a couple instances of tobacco being watered with soaker hoses. I assume those farmers have wells that they're irrigating from. I don't think they'd be allowed to use water from CCWD for farm irrigation.

A Joyful Chaos said...

We traveled out to Missouri not long ago and really feel sorry for everyone affected by this drought! It makes me extra thankful for our daily showers we are having in our area.


Elaine said...

Arkansas has almost every county experiencing Extreme or Exceptional Drought--the worst possible. Ranchers are selling off herds built up over decades, and farmers are seeing complete crop failures. After such a promising start to the growing season, this is devastating.

I have a daily record (with my scientific gauge and CoCoRAHS network membership) and I know we are not alone in this situation...but it just makes me sadder than ever to know how many are suffering.

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