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7/17/2017 9:14:00 AM
Lack of rain and high temperatures plaguing some Knox County area farmers

Jess Cohen, Vincennes Sun-Commercial

High temperatures and low amounts of rain have been hard for humans to deal with, but the weather has been even tougher on plants.

Purdue University extension specialists for corn and soybeans say that the recent weather patterns have caused a patchwork across the state when it comes to this year's crops: Some counties have reported heavy rain pounding their fields, while others have been suffering from a lack of rain.

Knox County, unfortunately, falls into the latter category.

“Our main problem is that it's been pretty dry,” said longtime farmer Jim Sexton, who farms south of the city, on Thursday. “The heat's not been too bad — it's the lack of moisture that's causing us problems this year. We really need rain.

“But that's just the way it goes in the farming business,” he said philosophically. “You either get too much or you don't get enough.”

Many farming operations within the county have irrigation systems they can turn to when a dry spell hits. The crops irrigated by those systems look OK, Sexton says, but not everyone has that option.

“Some fields just aren't the right size or shape and some you just can't get the water,” he said. “You can't just drill a well everywhere to get enough to get an irrigation system going.

“It's kind of an economic thing: the bigger the area you can irrigate, the cheaper it is to do it per acre.”

Mike Brocksmith farms with his family in the South Knox area. he said it's been quite an “up and down year” so far.

“We started really fast this spring with planting, then it turned very wet and we were delayed,” he said. “Now we've turned extremely dry again.”

Brocksmith's fields are a combination of sandy soil and clay ground. Clay has more water-holding capacity, he said, but they don't irrigate and things are getting to the point where they “really need the rain.”

Any time farmers experience a lack of rain, it can definitely stress out the crops, said Austin Pearson, extension educator in the Tipton County Purdue Extension Office, especially when they're coming to the flowering point.

“They need at least an inch of water a week to fully protect the health of the plant, and that's a very difficult thing to come by,” he said. “When you have hot conditions with temperatures in excess of 90 degrees with humidity, you'll see the leaves rolling in corn and in soybeans, you'll have the potential to see leaves flipping.”

When plants react that way, it means they're trying to cut back on the amount of moisture that they're losing, a process called evapotranspiration.

If the weather is hot and dry during the flowering stage, there's also still potential for disease such as ear rot to set in late in the year.

The weather is notoriously volatile, but the ideal forecast for farmers would be plenty of sunshine, timely rains that bring an inch of water per week, and temperatures in the mid-80s, he added. Once the mercury starts rising into the upper 80s and 90s, heat stress could strike, but as long as there's moisture, crops will generally be all right.

While the weather continues to trend toward hot and dry, however, Pearson said it's important for farmers to be vigilant.

“The most important thing for farmers to be doing is scouting their fields and making sure everything is looking OK and trying to make sure they'e making the best economic decision prior to making a management decision,” he advised.

Hans Schmitz is the extension director and educator in Gibson County and has a background in climatology. He's been keeping an eye on the drought monitor this week and said in Knox County, the western portion is experiencing normal dry conditions while the eastern half is not.

Some corn has already been pollinated, Schmitz said, and the remainder will reach that stage in the next couple of weeks.

“We're hoping for moderate conditions so we can get through all of the corn pollination,” he said. “Soybeans are also blooming now. They're not quite as sensitive to weather as corn.”

With all the rain early on during the spring and the fluctuations since then, it's been a pretty unique year weather-wise, Schmitz said, but it's too soon to tell how things will ultimately shake out for farmers as far as yield outlooks.

“We're still sitting in better shape than a couple recent years in memory. We're not bad, but it's yet to be seen if we'll be great,” he said.

Sexton doesn't exactly have high hopes. He said he'd be surprised if the yields this year turn out to be as good as they've been in years past.

“It just depends around here, but I don't look for it to be as good. It's just been too dry,” he said. “We had some water problems and a lot of replanting had to be done this year because it was so wet at the end of April. Whenever you have to go in and replant, it's not going to be as good as the first time around.

“It's been a little difficult this spring and summer.”

Echoing the words of Schmitz, Brocksmith said time will tell.

“What happens in the next few weeks is going to be really critical,” he said.

Copyright 2017 Vincennes Sun Commercial

Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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