Drought hitting pocket book of Elkhart County farmers
Posted: 07/22/2012 at 1:15 am
By: Justin Leighty
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Middlebury farmer Dave Williams assembles signs for the Homestead area at the Elkhart County 4-H Fair Friday, July 20, 2012. There will likely be plenty of talk among farmers about this summer's drought during the fair this week. Williams is a 5th generation farmer in Indiana and each generation has dealt with drought cycles. The grass at the farmstead is showing signs of stress from the dry conditions. The heavy rain a few days ago won't help the corn crop, but can still help the soybeans. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard)
Middlebury farmer Dave Williams, left, smiles as he talks with a passerby and assembles signs for the Homestead area at the Elkhart County 4-H Fair Friday, July 20, 2012. There will likely be plenty of talk among farmers about this summer's drought during the fair this week. Williams is a 5th generation farmer in Indiana and each generation has dealt with drought cycles. The grass at the farmstead is showing signs of stress from the dry conditions. The heavy rain a few days ago won't help the corn crop, but can still help the soybeans. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard)
Middlebury farmer Dave Williams climbs into the drivers seat of an older piece of farm equipment at the Homestead area on Friday at the Elkhart County 4-H Fair. There will likely be plenty of talk among farmers about this summer’s drought during the fair this week. Williams is a fifth generation farmer in Indiana and each generation has dealt with drought cycles. The grass at the farmstead is showing signs of stress from the dry conditions. The heavy rain a few days ago won’t help the corn crop, but can still help the soybeans.
Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard
Grain farmers, dairy farmers, landowners and veterinarians have all been talking about what’s happened, and what the future might bring with this drought — especially higher food prices.
The weather situation
Even with a couple of inches of rain last week, Goshen is seven inches behind for this year’s precipitation, according to the National Weather Service.
“We had a dry summer last summer, we had a dry winter with only three major snowfalls,” said Jeff Burbrink, agriculture educator with the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service in Elkhart County.
In a weekly drought report for the area, Courtney Obergfell, meteorologist with the National Weather Service wrote, “While many locations saw upwards of one to two inches of rain on July 18-19, short term rainfall has little impact on the long term drought conditions currently in place. There may be some short term improvement over the next week, but the outlook for July indicates continued below normal rainfall and above normal temperatures.”
@Normal:According to Senior Meteorologist Jim Andrews at AccuWeather.com, “The region has suffered and will continue to suffer from a lack of frequent thunderstorms. Warm-season rainfall is the primary source of soil moisture for the region.” AccuWeather predicts a crop disaster for most of the corn belt.
The U.S.D.A. has declared more than half the counties in Indiana to be disaster areas due to the drought.
Crop impact is bad
Maureen Kercher said the weather’s been rough on their family’s operations. The fall freezes killed roughly 95 percent of their apple and peach crop at Sunrise Orchards. For their corn, the drought is what hurt most.
@Normal:“It’s ugly. We irrigate, but it’s just not the same,” Kercher said.
Richard Lechlitner said the hit has been hard on farmers. “The thing this year is, it’s big.”
It’s also expensive. Seed, fertilizer and fuel costs were already high, and now irrigation costs come on top of that, between paying to run the pumps and maintaining equipment.
Burbrink said, “These guys who’ve been irrigating are just exhausted right now.” If the drought continues, shallow irrigation wells could dry up, as well.
It’s too early to measure the economic impact of local corn failures, but a lot of the corn in the area is beyond hope, Burbrink said.
Livestock impact is bad, too
In theory, the amount of failed corn should provide enough feed for livestock in the area. The problem, Burbrink said, is the moisture levels aren’t yet right to cut corn for silage. “You’re going to have a small window to get that chopped at the right moisture content,” he said.
Dave Williams, a Middlebury farmer, said, “So many people are dumping their cattle because there’s no grass for ‘em and feed’s so expensive. The effects of this are going to be far reaching. Down the road, what are beef prices going to be like if there’s no cattle to process?”
Burbrink said that’s not surprising. The first hay cutting was down this year, the second was next to nothing, and the third was nothing. “When you don’t have enough forage, you don’t have a lot of options. You can buy more land or reduce the number of mouths to feed,” he said.
Livestock producers and dairy farmers are mixing various feed options together and even shipping in hay from Nebraska, though the rains should help local alfalfa.
Sara Granberg, a local veterinarian, said she plans to buy a steer at the 4-H auction Friday “because I won’t be able to afford beef later. I’ve never done that before and will have to figure out storage, but that’s what we’re doing,” she said. She’s also glad she stocked up on hay for her horses early. “It’s going to be bad because hay and corn are going to be unaffordable,” she said.
Granberg said small animals have been getting sick a lot lately, though she can’t specifically link that to the drought.
One bright spot
The recent rain came just in time for soybeans, and it will help hay.
“It hit at a very good time for beans,” Burbrink said.
Those who manage to cut a successful corn crop this year should get a very good price for their corn, which right now is going for more than $8 a bushel, Burbrink said. “I remember back in the ‘80s when corn was less than $2.”
Soybeans are going for twice that, and yield somewhere between 33 and 40 percent as much per acre as corn, on average. “I think this year the bean crop’s going to be the one that’s going to be the money maker,” Burbrink said.
It’s hitting more than grass at home
“Right now the trees and shrubs, the last couple of days the trees and shrubs really started showing it bad,” Burbrink said.
The rain over the last week was probably enough to help keep grass dormant, but not enough to wake it up, Burbrink said.
Following the rain, Brian Campbell, who lives on a small acreage just east of Goshen, said he walked through the woods behind his house. There’s usually standing water in those woods for much of the year, but “after two inches of rain, it wasn’t even muddy.” His cherry trees are losing the leaves at the top, and it’s reminding him of 1988, when “I lost my whole back yard.”
Campbell said, “Even the rabbits are like, ‘Hey, there’s nothing to eat here.’”
Burbrink said it’s not worth homeowners worrying about eliminating crabgrass at this point, but they need to focus on trying to save trees.