Dry weather hurts potential yield for some farmers

8/1/2014 10:00 AM
By Associated Press

PRINCETON, Ky. (AP) — Every day it stays dry, it robs more yield from Greg George's parched corn and soybean fields in western Kentucky.

It's been about two months since many of his fields in Caldwell and Lyon counties got their last good soaking from a rain.

"The corn has taken a devastating hit," he said this week. "It's not looking good at all."

George predicts much of his corn will muster yields of 100 bushels an acre, well off last year's 185 to 190 bushels per acre in what was one of his best grain crops ever. So far, milder temperatures this summer have spared him from the prospect of even paltrier yields.

Much of his later-planted soybean crop might yield 10 bushels an acre or less, a third of his usual output, unless rain starts falling soon, he said.

The outlook for Kentucky's upcoming harvest depends on where farmers live.

In north-central Kentucky, a much-needed rain last weekend perked up Doug Langley's corn and soybeans at a time they were suffering.

"That was a lifesaver for us," said Langley, who farms in Henry, Shelby and Spencer counties. "It's amazing how much better it looked when it was raining on them. If the weather pattern continues as is, I think it will be as good a crop as last year."

Overall, 49 percent of the statewide corn crop was in good condition as of last Sunday and 17 percent was excellent, according to the latest weekly report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service's field office in Kentucky. Twenty-two percent was fair and 12 percent poor or very poor.

Sixty-six percent of the statewide soybean crop was in good or excellent condition, the report said. Another 25 percent was fair, and the rest was poor or very poor, it said. Sixty-eight percent of the tobacco crop was rated good or excellent, 24 percent fair and 8 percent poor or very poor.

Kentucky's corn, soybeans and tobacco crops generated an estimated $2.1 billion in total cash receipts last year. That amounted to about one-third of the state's nearly $6 billion in record cash receipts, or gross sales, in 2013, according to University of Kentucky agricultural economists.

This year, Kentucky farmers planted an estimated 1.55 million acres of corn, up 20,000 acres from 2013, and 1.7 million acres of soybeans, a 50,000-acre increase, according to the agricultural statistics service.

UK ag economist Will Snell said this week that crop conditions vary considerably across the Bluegrass state.

Farmers in some areas are in position to reap high yields, while others are in a "devastating position" due to lack of rain, he said. Recent high winds and hail damaged some tobacco fields in the state's bluegrass region, he said.

"It's just been a tough growing season," said Tom Priddy, a UK extension agricultural meteorologist.

Fourteen percent of the state has slipped into moderate drought, mostly in west-central sections, Priddy said.

Abnormally dry conditions exist in other parts of western Kentucky and pockets of northern and northeastern Kentucky, he said.

The combination of dry weather and lower grain prices are looming as a double-whammy for some farmers.

Predictions of a massive U.S. corn crop are driving down prices for growers, Snell said. This year's corn crop may fetch half the more than $7-per-bushel prices farmers received a couple of years ago, he said. Soybean prices also have fallen, but not as far due to a better supply-demand balance, he said.

"Cheap corn, high input costs and low yields are not a good combination," Snell said. "Crop insurance and the farm bill safety net will provide some assistance in a year like this one. Ideally, grain farmers prepared for a year like this one following record income years."

George, the western Kentucky farmer, said he's just hoping for a break-even year after the weather setbacks.

"It gets pretty aggravating, but there's not a thing in the world we can do about it," he said. "We'll just try it again next year."

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