Danedri Thompson
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With an ongoing drought and little hope for rain in the next few weeks, much of the area’s corn crop may be razed and used for silage.
“It’s looking tough out there,” Rick Miller, Johnson County K-State Extension and Research agriculture and community development agent, said. “It is extremely dry. The corn has been stressed for several weeks. My shock is that there’s still corn out there.”
While parts of Johnson County received some rainfall last week, the showers and thunderstorms were too isolated to provide much relief from the ongoing drought, according to the National Weather Service. After months of warmer than normal temperatures and limited rainfall, Johnson County is in a severe drought. Olathe, for example, typically receives almost 17 inches of rain between April and July 1. This year, only 7.28 inches have fallen in those three months.
“The corn is definitely showing visibly signs of the drought,” Miller said.
Farmers who planted early may have ears with grain on some of their corn, but those who planted later in the season are likely to see a total loss, Miller said.
In a process called firing, drying corn begins to brown at the base near the soil until eventually, the entire stalk is dry, Miller explained.
“For the corn that really doesn’t have much of an ear right now, no amount of rain is going to help it,” he said. “It’s virtually doomed.”
Rain will help the corn that does have ears by helping the existing kernels to get a little bigger. However, rain isn’t expected in the forecast for the next 10 days.
The assumption, Miller said, is that farmers will harvest some from the approximate 12,000 acres of planted corn in Johnson County. However, the yield, or bushels per acre will likely be much less than normal. In a typical year, Johnson County corn growers can expect to harvest between 90 and 100 bushels of corn per acre. This year, those farmers who have some harvestable corn are more likely to get about 40 bushels per acre.
And many local farmers are trying to determine whether to harvest their corn for cattle feed or bail the stalk for feed.
“It’s probably going to be the worst crop that we’ve had in a long time,” Miller said. “I hear a lot of farmers talk about the drought of 1980 or 1988 – this probably doesn’t quite compare with that, but if it continues on like this, it’s going to be one of the worst years we’ve had in recent history.”
The dismal corn crop isn’t only affecting farmers, however. It’s hitting consumers in the pocketbook as well. It’s driving up the cost of many things at the grocery store including meat – as corn grain is used in cattle feed; gasoline – as corn is used to make ethanol affecting the cost to transport products; and it’s as sweetener in a variety of products.
“I think we’re already seeing higher prices at the store,” Miller said. “Corn is used in so many ways.”
Glenn Bonar, Gardner, isn’t just worried about high prices.
“There are going to be some concerns not just on prices but on having stuff on the shelves,” Bonar, a farmer for 60 years, said.
Bonar anticipates selling more than half of his cattle, because he’s already using his winter reserves to feed his cattle today. The prohibitive cost of feeding cattle will eventually lead to higher meat prices.
And he has concerns for next year’s crops as well.
“Seed production is going to be critical,” Bonar said. “Crops are burnt up. Where are farmers going to get their seed?”
More than 80 Kansas counties have been declared federal emergencies due to the dry conditions, but the drought reaches further than Kansas. Approximately 55 percent of the U.S. is faced with a drought right now – the most widespread drought in the country since the 1950s.
Many farmers will be asking themselves tough questions about what to do about this year’s corn crop in the upcoming days.
“We are in a drought situation right now,” Miller said. “Unfortunately, I think it’s only going to get worse for them. The best we can all do is hope for rain.”