Spotty growing crops in a soybean field on 00 North-South at 440 West on Aug. 7, 2015. Lots of early season rain puddling in the fields caused a lot of crop damage which will affect this year's yield. Tim Bath | Kokomo Tribune
Spotty growing crops in a soybean field on 00 North-South at 440 West on Aug. 7, 2015. Lots of early season rain puddling in the fields caused a lot of crop damage which will affect this year's yield. Tim Bath | Kokomo Tribune
The nightmare that was the 1988 agricultural season is still on the minds of area farmers.

Mother Nature dumped buckets of rain on Central Indiana early and often during the season, but by mid-summer, the precipitation supply simply shut off. The early rain left root systems shallow, and with no way to reach the moisture deep in the soil, crops withered in the late summer heat.

While the summer of 2015 hasn’t been that catastrophic locally, it’s still been pretty bad. Bad enough for Gov. Mike Pence to ask the United States Department of Agriculture to declare a disaster in 53 of the state’s 92 counties, including Howard, Cass and Miami.

“Recent and unprecedented heavy rainfall across our state has had a significant impact on yield of Indiana crops and our Hoosier farmers,” Pence said. “As promised, our administration has been closely monitoring this situation and, in coordination with the Indiana Farm Service Agency, has determined federal emergency loan assistance is both prudent and warranted. Hoosier farmers can be assured that we will continue to keep a close eye on the long-term effects on this year’s heavy rains and, as needed, work to identify additional help for those in our state’s agriculture industry.”

Even though Kokomo received nearly 10 inches of rain in June, it’s still critical for the crops to continue to receive precipitation. Much like in 1988, the early deluge of rain has left crops with shallow root systems. There’s still moisture deep in the soil, but most of it is too deep for crops to reach at this point.

Mother Nature gave an assist to local crops last week, with the eastern part of Howard County receiving six-tenths of an inch of rain and the western part taking in almost an inch.

“The crops don’t look like they’re suffering, but we’re in the stages where we’re getting grain fill in the corn and podding in the beans,” Howard County Purdue Extension director Paul Marcellino said. “We need about an inch of rain a week to maintain good crop development.

“It sounds crazy, and I get that,” he added. “But, because of the shallow rooting the crops have to have it. This is when the crops need the most water, right now. We could’ve gotten a lot less rain earlier and gotten by fine. But, now we really need it.”

A disaster declaration is typically sought when counties begin to meet or exceed a 30 percent loss of crops. The press release sent out regarding the state’s request to the USDA said 50 counties in Indiana have experienced such a loss at this point.

If a disaster is declared, farmers will be able to apply for assistance loans with low interest rates courtesy of the Farm Service Agency. But, Marcellino says it’s hard to tell if the yield losses are that steep locally.

“We’re still growing this crop, and we won’t know for sure,” he said. “It’s really difficult unless you’re flying over these acres and seeing what’s out there. To know for sure, we’ll have to wait until the grain is harvested.”

In the meantime, estimates are being made with the help of the expertise of Purdue Extension educators. They report back to the state on what they feel the crop progress is in terms of general ratings.

Field agents also collect representative samples from fields throughout the state to get a feel for what’s going on out there.

“Statistically, they do a pretty good job of estimation,” Marcellino said. “When they cover that many acres, they can pretty fine-tune [the numbers]. Usually, they’re not too far off.”

If they’re not too far off, the crops salvaged from the heavy rain aren’t looking very good. According to a report released by the USDA on Sunday, 53 percent of Indiana’s corn crop has been rated fair or worse. Twenty-five percent of the crop is poor or worse, meaning a harvest reaching anywhere near last year’s state record of 1.08 bushels is highly unlikely.

“That’s concerning because we’re looking at a significant yield loss,” Marcellino said. “… In Howard County, an excellent rating would mean 185 to 200 bushels [per acre]. Fair would be something along the lines of 120 to 150 or 160 bushels. It depends on how good the soil can do and the potential. Some parts of the county would consider 160 bushels good, while some other areas of the county are capable of doing 200 bushels or better.”

© 2019 Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.