A partially developed ear of corn is no more than 4 inches long. Drying down in a field near Stockwell in Tippecanoe County, it symbolizes what the 2012 drought means to Indiana farmers - a small harvest drying in the field way too soon.
By Keith Robinson, Purdue University
USDA's outlook for the nation's corn and soybean harvests reflects what farmers have been seeing for the past two months: vanishing prospects for a good year as their crops wilt from lack of water.
USDA's August crop production report, the first projections of how much corn, soybean and other crops are expected to produce this year, paints a bleak picture as Indiana and other eastern Corn Belt states suffer through the worst drought since at least 1988.
In the report, released Aug. 10, USDA estimated Indiana's corn crop would produce 605 million bushels on yields averaging about 100 bushels per acre, a per-acre decrease of 46 bushels from 2011 and 57.4 bushels from Indiana's five-year average. Soybeans are projected to yield 37 bushels per acre, down 8 bushels from last year and 9.7 bushels from the five-year average.
"These are remarkably low numbers, especially on the corn," said Chris Hurt, Purdue Extension agricultural economist. "Indiana is the worst of the major production states in terms of corn production. We knew that early on. It started here and then spread to the west."
Hurt was among agricultural experts who reviewed the crop production report during a panel discussion at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Greg Matli, deputy director of the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service's Indiana field office, summarized the report, which projects that the nation's farmers will produce 10.8 billion bushels of corn. That is down 13% from last year, which also was not a good crop year because of a less severe drought. Soybean production is forecast at 2.6 billion bushels, down 12% from last year.
This surreal-looking soybean field near Dayton in Tippecanoe County is a victim of the 2012 drought that started in the spring and worsened into the summer. (Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Tom Campbell)
The agriculture industry expected bumper crops in Indiana and across the Midwest when farmers began planting earlier than normal this spring in what was then favorable weather - unseasonable warmth and little rain. There were forecasts that the nation's farmers could produce a corn crop of 14 billion bushels, nearly 1 billion more than the previous record, if the weather cooperated.
But conditions soon deteriorated for crops as the heat intensified and fields got hardly any rain at all over the next three months. Hopes for a bountiful harvest evaporated as the drought worsened weekly, preventing many corn and soybean crops from developing enough to produce strong yields.