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Recent rain a blessing for farmers

As if planned strategically by someone hoping to grill over the holidays, much-needed rainfall hit the area not long after the annual Independence Day celebration wound to a close.

For local farmers, the precipitation was welcomed in earnest, as crops planted in May began showing distress from a longer-than-normal spell of dry conditions.

“The U.S. Drought Monitor currently places the southwest part of Wabash County in the ‘Moderate Drought Category,’ while the rest of the county has been declared ‘abnormally dry,’” said Kyle Brown, a meteorologist from the National Weather Service’s station in North Webster.

The website reported that even with the rainfall in the first week of July, totals going back to June 13 have barely topped three quarters of an inch.

Brown reported data provided by the city utility office of nearby Marion, which partners with NWS to report such weather information as rainfall. According to the report, 7.07 inches of rain fell from May 1 to the end of June. This accumulation was the lowest since the drought year of 2012.

However, local farmers and crop experts say the rain that began late in the day July 4 would be enough to help distressed crops rebound nicely.
“This year, just like every year, there are always curveballs to adjust to,” said Scott Haupert with Urbana-based Dale/Haupert Family Farms. “Crops went in a little later than we would like, but they went and came up really well. The crop was in pretty good shape when we ran out of water.”

On June 14 in Wabash County, the temperature topped out at 98 degrees Fahrenheit and crops didn’t see much in the way of moisture until late in the July 4 holiday.

“The crop, especially corn, was starting to suffer but the rain came very timely,” said Haupert.

Ed Farris with Huntington County’s Purdue Extension Office, described corn as resilient and quoted from an agriculture newsletter, which said “Overall, corn is fairly tolerant to heat and drought conditions during early vegetative growth. However, if the heat and drought continue to persist, and severe plant stress is observed, plant photosynthetic capacity and yield can be lost. Where heat and drought stress can become a significant problem is during pollination and silking.”

Mark Kepler of Fulton County’s Extension Office reinforced the idea of such crops’ reliance on water during the early stages of development.

“During early corn growth is when the plant genetically puts on the number of rows of kernels and these droughts during this time can affect that number of rows of kernels,” Kepler said. “You can continually guess how much yield loss has happened, but you never know what may be made up for by better weather later on. It is during that better weather that the number of kernels per row is put on, so if you have good moisture during that tasseling and silking time, you could end up with more kernels per row.”

According to Evan Bowman, manager of Wabash County’s Bowman Farms, stress on crops is preferable earlier than later.

“Before the corn is even knee-high, it is already determining the size of ear that it will grow, so early-season stressors like drought begin subtracting yield,” he said. “Nevertheless, corn and soybeans have incredible, God-given defense mechanisms to mitigate stress, and early-season drought is preferable to late-season dryness during pollination and grain fill. Our weather is historically dry during those periods through July and August, so the concern with a dry June is that soil moisture has been depleted to make an even drier late growing season.”

During the dry spell, when temperatures also flirted with triple digits, many corn fields displayed what experts call “leaf rolling,” which is a sign of high temperature stress.

According to Ohio State University’s Extension Service, crop stress due to heat begins around 86 degrees Fahrenheit. The service added that if corn experiences more than 140 days of high heat, crop yields will be negatively affected.

OSUES added the similarities between corn and its crop rotation partner, soybeans.

“Soybeans have a similar range in temperature to corn for heat stress,” the service reported. “Temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit for several consecutive days can cause heat stress. This heat can accelerate maturity, because soybeans are photoperiod and temperature-controlled when it comes to flowering. During vegetative stages, these high temperatures can slow or stop photosynthesis because the plant is making an effort to conserve water. Thus, inhibiting new vegetative growth, which is vital for late-planted soybeans. Temperatures above 86 degrees Fahrenheit can also reduce nodulation and therefore N-fixation in the soybean which could have an effect until the reproductive stages.”

While farmers likely kept their eyes on the skies and the daily weather reports, hoping that when rain did fall, it wouldn’t be too little too late, the early July offerings seem to have saved the year’s yields, according to Haupert, who has been farming with the crop and livestock operation since 1996.

“I don’t think, at this point, we should see much of a yield reduction,” he said. “But, what this dry period did do was make our roots drive deep in the ground searching for water. I am happy at this point with the condition of our crops.”

Bowman agrees and adds that he’s optimistic, so long that the weather of June’s second half isn’t repeated later in the season.

“Unfortunately, once yield is lost, it’s lost,” Bowman said. “There is still a lot of yield potential to be determined, so favorable conditions for the rest of the season can still grow a strong crop. Even though the crop was planted on the late side, most local farmers have been blessed with a good stand in their crops, and this is essential to maximize yield potential.”