The corn stalk crackled as Jessamine County farmer Tim White bent it back while looking over 6.5 acres of corn he planted in late April. The crackling sounds, along with the crunch of the yellow dead grass under his work boots, were telltale signs of the extreme drought conditions many farmers throughout the region are combating this year. Presently, Jessamine County is in an extreme drought condition, according to the Palmer Drought Severity Index.
“This is bad,” White said, surveying the land. “In different spots, I’ve got better corn than in others, but I’ve got corn anywhere from a total loss to corn that is just a crop — there is no bumper crops like there were last year.”
White planted some 250 acres of corn to sell and for feed, and while he has some areas that are doing well, most are not. White also has other crops including cattle and pasture land spread out over 2,800 acres of farm land in Jessamine and Fayette counties.
The 25-year farming veteran hoped to get a yield of 150 to 160 bushels from his corn, but given the current conditions, he estimates he will get somewhere between 60 and 70 bushels.
White’s plight is becoming all too commonplace throughout the county, extension agent Rob Amburgey said.
“Crops have suffered,” Amburgey said. “If you look at corn, it looks like yields are going to be significantly lower on a lot of this corn. As you drive down the road, you can see that the corn is beginning to twist, which is an indication of the excessive dry weather.
“A lot of the corn’s tassels are not going to pollinate, or if it does pollinate, the ears aren’t going to form, and that’s going to reduce yields.”
The Lexington area, which includes Jessamine County, has experienced temperatures greater than 100 degrees seven out of 15 days since June 25, according to the National Weather Service in Louisville. The normal high temperature during that same stretch is around 86 degrees, according to NWS.
Rainfall has been lacking as well. Typically, the Lexington area receives 5.73 inches of rain from June 1 to July 9; this year, that figure has been 1.71 inches. For the month of July, the Lexington area has received .10 inches of rain.
Corn isn’t the only crop suffering because of the lack of rain, Amburgey said.
“(Soybeans) don’t look good at all this year,” he said. “Some soybeans that I’ve seen that were planted early still look OK, though.”
But the heat and lack of rainfall has farmers scrambling to feed and water their livestock, cattle farmer Charles Miller said.
“Let me put it this way; I had a lot of pasture land,” he quipped. “It’s burned up — there just isn’t any grass; we’re having to feed hay to everything right now.”
Miller, who farms some 1,100 acres of land, said in a normal year, he doesn’t have to start thinking about feeding hay until late September or early October. He did say last year’s mild winter is helping out because many farmers had hay left over.
“It got dryer earlier than I can ever recall, to be quite honest,” he said. “We were very fortunate in the spring to have a good hay crop. I think most people had a good crop because of the very warm winter that we had.”
White agreed that a lack of water is becoming an issue for Jessamine County farmers.
“We’re just getting to the most critical time where we need water for pollination to establish our (corn) yields,” White said. “Another problem that is going to hit us pretty soon is water (for livestock). If we have city water, that’s fine, and it works, but not every farmer in Jessamine County has that option.”
Miller said for those farmers who have access to city water, the cost will be great the longer the drought continues.
“A mature animal, with as hot as it has been, will drink 25 to 30 gallons of water a day, and that runs into some dollars when you’re on city water,” Miller said.
Long, hot summer
Amburgey said that the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture is predicting a long, dry summer, which doesn’t bode well for farmers.
“(UK extension meteorology specialist) Tom Priddy sent out an e-mail four or five days ago saying that there was an El Niño forming in the Pacific, and El Niños normally translate to a dry winter in Kentucky,” Amburgey said. “We’re coming out of a hot and dry summer and into a dry winter, so ground moisture is not going to be there.”
Looking ahead to the upcoming winter, Miller said rain — and a lot of it — is what farmers need.
“There are a lot of factors that enter into the mix,” Miller said. “If it stays dry on up through the fall, a lot of these hay stocks people have are going to become depleted. It’s critical that we get some rain.”