Drought Tightens Grip on Midwest

Jul 11, 2012  | 00:06:49  | Ep3746

 Much of the Kansas corn crop looks healthy, green and tall -- even sporting a tassel. A casual observer might believe all is fine, but a closer inspection reveals a different tale.

Ken Wood, Chapman, KS: “See that one didn't - mostly didn't pollinate.  The ones that did pollinate a lot of them don't just have any size to them at all.  There is just a few kernels on there most of that.”

Ken Wood of Chapman, Kansas inspects his corn crop, which is declining, daily.

Ken Wood: “We're in Kansas.  We kind of expect it to be dry.  This is a little extreme even for us.”

The central-Kansas grain farmer has the irrigation pivots running on some fields, but the equipment struggled to keep up during the 100-degree weather in early July.

Ken Wood: “When it is 105 or 109 degrees and the wind is blowing 20/25 mph you can't pour enough water on it to - to make the corn happy.”

Much of the state’s non-irrigated corn is in even worse shape as subsoil moisture was non-existent going into this year after a dry 2011.

Jeanne Falk/KSU Extension Agronomist: “Bad is bad.  We are - we're in pretty tough conditions at the moment.  The thing is we have been - we're five inches behind in our rainfall for the year.  So, our normal rainfall is approximately 20 inches.  Five inches behind is down to 15.  That's, you know right on the border, you know it takes 12 inches to make a corn crop.  So we are right at that edge where it can be getting to very dire straights.”

Jeanne Falk is based in the northwestern Kansas town of Colby, where some producers are debating shutting off irrigation pivots in some fields to save others.

A trip east doesn’t offer any reprieve from the arid conditions and producers are already considering options for corn they thought they’d harvest and market.

Doug Shoup/Chanute, KS: KSU Extension Area Agronomist “Same story different year.  Last year we also had - we were quite dry in the SE part of the state and so we kind of - this is a little bit old hat for us two years in a row now we're dealing with nitrate problems in corn and alphoxin? problems in corn and we are starting to feel a lot of silage questions, a lot of emergency --- issues for our livestock producers.”

While hope is all but gone for most of the state’s corn, Kansas did enjoy a bountiful wheat crop that was larger than most years.  Despite dry conditions this past spring, and the earliest harvest on record, Kansas farmers produced 396 million bushels of wheat.  That’s up more than 40 (43) percent from last year’s drought-stricken crop, a moderate surprise despite the earliest harvest on record and dry spring conditions.

But the upcoming winter wheat planting may be off to dusty start if rain doesn’t start falling soon.

Kraig Roozeboom/Kansas State University: Extension Agronomist Specialist: “Long-term data for Western Kansas would indicate that soil moisture -- wheat planting is a very good predictor of our yield potential out in Western Kansas and we are shaping up to have a pretty poor soil moisture situation come wheat planting.”

Soybeans are holding on, waiting for Mother Nature to bring some much-needed moisture. But a few more weeks of triple-digit heat without rain could ruin that crop as well. USDA puts nearly one-third of the Sunflower state’s soybeans in the poor to very poor category.

Ken Wood: “Well, you can see some blooms trying to start there but there won't be any pod sets, I don't think.  I think they will probably abort those pods until we get some moisture.”

And as pastures dry up, so are rivers and other water sources.

As a whole, Kansas is off to its 18th driest year in 119 years of record keeping. The state’s climatologist adds the bigger story is the temperatures, which are already in the top ten and that’s before the traditional “dog days of summer.”

Kraig Roozeboom, KSU Extension Agronomist:  “In Kansas we have the potential for extreme temperatures.  We have the potential for drought in any given year and we have periods of that every year in - in places.  And so we don't want to manage for the worst case scenario but we do need to realize that potential is out there.”

A similar story can be seen as you head east to Missouri where the drought is destroying whole crops from lack of moisture.

Alan Washburn: ”If it doesn’t rain, this is what it’s gonna look like”…

The current USDA crop condition report shows nearly 60 percent of the corn in the Show Me state is in poor to very poor condition.

Alan Washburn/Missouri Farmer: “There is absolutely no corn here. Its lost all its moisture. Apparently, it didn’t rain right in this corner of the field.”

And dry pastures are forcing Missouri cattle ranchers to sell off their herds.

And in neighboring Illinois, known for its corn-production prowess, the southern half of the state is dry and the corn crop could be major disaster. Nearly half of the Land of Lincoln’s corn crop is in poor to very poor condition.

Steve Pitstick/Illinois Farmer: "There is just no available moisture in this soil, it's just like sand it's so dry."

For 35 years Steve Pitstick, a fifth generation farmer, has been growing corn and he has never seen drought like this 

Steve Pitstick/Illinois Farmer: "The dry weather that we are experiencing right now is historic. 2005 was dry, 1988 was the big one that we all talk about but 2012 will probably surpass any of those and be the biggest historic event that we have had in my career anyway and it, probably on the verge of 1936 the dust bowl era."

Southern Illinois grain farmers say they're in for a crop disaster unless they get substantial rain fall soon. Some farmers have given up and begun to chop their crops and bale what’s left. Farmers in Madison County, one of the harder hit, fear the corn crop could be wiped out by current conditions. USDA officials peg 48 percent of the corn crop in poor to very poor condition.

The last drought of this magnitude occurred in 1988 devastating crops across the Midwest. According to U.S. government figures, the nation’s farmers received more than $5 billion in disaster relief while the toll on energy, water, ecosystems and agriculture rolled over $40 billion.

Researchers at Purdue University say plants today can withstand drought better than they did in 1988, but no variety exists that can produce significant yields without rain for six weeks with sustained temperatures over 100 degrees.

More from this show

Grinnell Mutual Insurance