Imagine walking into a corn field and sticking a spade into a 1 inch crack, only to find its deep enough to swallow the entire thing. That’s what happened to Chad Colby, of Cross Implement Inc. in Illinois, this week. He was walking a field with one of his growers discussing the same topic that is on the mind of most of the Midwest: Will the rain come in time?
Farmers throughout the country are living on a finite timeline. Counting the number of days they can survive without a rain. Brian Scott, a farmer near Monticello, Ind., says the weather has got to turn around soon. In fact he says that if it doesn’t rain by July 4, things are going to get really ugly really fast. "I don’t think it will be dead, but it’s going to be hurt awful bad," he says.
Scott says the crop started taking a turn for the worst early in the week. "Here in our neighborhood, we turned the corner Saturday, everything was looking pretty good and now it’s losing a little bit every day," he says. Lack of rain is the major factor for most farmers as the heat hadn’t really started hitting the Corn Belt hard until this week.
He says he’s had two inches of rain since March 20. "The last two rains have been 2/10, it’s been two weeks and the last rain didn’t really count," Scott says.
Lack of rain and warm nights are sending the corn crop into what Colby refers to as suicidal mode. He says 10 days ago the crop looked great; it was going to be a year for the record books. Today he says it’s standing on a cliff with one foot over the edge trying to decide if living is worth it.
The USDA confirms that most of the crop has taken a turn for the worse in the past ten days. Crop condition around the country fell from 60% good to excellent to 56% good to excellent. A far cry from last year’s rating at this time of 70% good to excellent. Reuters reported that this condition score is the worst since 1988, a year burned in farmers’ minds and a memory resurrecting itself throughout farm country.
Colby remembers 1988. He was a teenager working on his family farm. "One thing that seems to be very different is that it hasn’t been very hot," he says. "In ‘88 it was ridiculously hot for a long time and that’s what did the damage. Now, it’s been dry and the heat just came, but it might be what puts us under."
He adds that the current farm economy is different than it was in 1988 or even 1983. "Guys have a lot more protection now than they did back then," Colby says. "I don’t think this crop is going to put any guys under, I think it’s going to mean longer vacations in the fall after a short harvest."
Colby and Scott both have hope the crop could turn around, but both are real about the solemnity of the situation. "It’s serious there’s no question about it," Colby says. "I think there are pockets of hope in some places and in others I think it’s going to get scary fast."
While Scott was early to the field, he doubts it gave him any advantage of guys that planted later. "A lot of it is putting on tassels now, but if it doesn’t rain it doesn’t matter," he says. Unfortunately the U.S. drought monitor says the dry, hot weather isn’t going away any time soon.
NOAA predicts that the drought will stay or intensify through September 30 for most of the Midwest. Will this be the biggest crop ever planted and the smallest ever harvested? Only time will tell.
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