Goshen News, Goshen, IN

July 21, 2013

A year after drought, local crops doing well

By JENNIFER MEIER
CORRESPONDENT

MIDDLEBURY — If there was a recipe for a good corn or soybean crop, it would go something like this:

• 1 to 1.5 inches of rain every three days

• 70 to 80 degree days

• Cool nights

Last year, Mother Nature didn’t come close following those directions.

“The biggest difference, of course, was the rain,” said Jeff Burbrink, Elkhart County Purdue Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Educator. “From fairly early in May through fair week it was pretty much non-existent.

During that time period, Burbrink said most every crop — corn, soybeans, wheat and hay — were affected.

“Unless farmers were using irrigation, nothing was looking too good,” he said. “I know the farmers who were using irrigation felt really, really good to have that in place.”



Burbrink said those who were able to water their crops were easy to pick out.

“These guys were tired!” Burbrink said. “Whatever meetings they attended, they were the ones falling asleep.”

From May until the end of July, Burbrink said, these farmers were monitoring their irrigation systems.

“They had to be on top of things 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for week after week after week,” he said. “If a hose broke or there was some other problem, an alarm would go off. They had to be watching and working all the time.”

And while irrigation provided a decent crop, the cost of extra seed, fertilizer and the diesel fuel or electricity it took to run the equipment proved very expensive.

For farmers who were able to sell their crop, pricing was excellent.

“They were at record highs last year,” said Andy AcMoody, senior manager of sales at North Central Co-op in Wabash. “Pricing has softened somewhat from last year, but farmers should show a decent profit this year.”

Although she’s far from finished, Mother Nature has been kind to local farmers this season.

“The difference from last year is like night and day,” said Middlebury farmer Mike Lee. “It was terrible last year. We suffered a lot. I don’t think it rained until after fair week. And by then we knew our corn crop was pretty well shot.”

Lee and his wife Becky own Marlee Acres farm, a 400-head custom dairy heifer replacement facility. They also grow about 500 acres of corn and soybeans.

The combination of light, sandy soil, no irrigation and drought conditions may have ruined the corn crop, but Lee’s soybean crop did surprisingly well last season.

“It kind of went dormant in the drought,” Lee said. “Then it woke back up with the late rain and took off.”

Because the dairy farm is run on a contractual basis, the livestock owners who hire Lee to raise their heifers until they are about 60 days from calving provide all the animals’ food.

“We are not paying for that, and that is a blessing,” Lee said.

And this year with the abundance of rain most corn and soybean crops, including those at Marlee Acres, are doing well.

“However, depending on where you are in the county it could be raining a little too regularly,” Burbrink said.

With so much rain, crops don’t put down very deep roots.

“It shows a lot of promise,” Lee said. “Although in the recent hot temperatures, the corn crop is beginning to show some stress.”

Lee said he noticed the leaves starting to roll up tight where the soil is most sandy.

“The plant tries to conserve moisture by rolling up its leaves,” he said. “That way the sun can’t bake it out.”

The heat comes at a bad time said AcMoody.

“Corn doesn’t like it much over 80 degrees,” he said. “It needs a resting period — cooler nights — to help pollination. Right now it’s a critical stage in the pollination process. We could use a shot of moisture in the next five days or less.”

Despite the ups and downs of the weather, AcMoody believes most farmers will have a bumper crop this year.

“It’s always a battle with Mother Nature,” AcMoody said. “But so far, things look excellent.”