Temperatures falling here, but damage already done by 2010 heat
by Franklin Clark, Reporter -- fclark@cadizrecord.com
Sep 08, 2010 | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Trigg County farmers of all stripes have had a rough summer due to the lack of rain and the extreme heat, although both seem to be ending.

That is what David Fourqurean, the Trigg County’s University of Kentucky extension agent for agriculture, said last Wednesday.

“We really need some rain right now,” Fourqurean said. “It is starting to cool off … but we haven’t had near the amount of moisture we need to have.”

While far western Kentucky counties have experienced the most extreme heat and driest conditions this summer, the whole state has had above normal temperatures. Western Kentucky also has been abnormally dry, and other areas of the state have sections that are dry.

And Thursday, the Office of the State Climatologist and the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet declared a Level One drought in Trigg County and 23 other counties in western Kentucky.

“Drought conditions have been developing in western Kentucky with precipitation totals of only 50 to 60 percent of normal for several consecutive months,” said Dr. Stuart Foster.

In particular, the 2010 corn harvest has begun in far western parts of the state, and producers are finding several issues in their fields as a result of extreme heat and dry weather, and the same is true in Trigg County, where the average is maybe 110 bushels an acre, when under normal conditions the average is about 190 bushels an acre, Fourqurean said.

“I went to a farm yesterday, and they are completely done shelling corn,” Fourqurean said. “I don’t think that’s probably ever happened. I don’t think we’ve ever been completely done shelling corn in August.”

One of the biggest concerns with these conditions is weakened cornstalks. Dry weather caused crops to stop taking in nutrients during seed development, and with no other source of nutrients, the seeds might have pulled nutrients from the stalks in order to complete their development, said Chad Lee, grain crops specialist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

To check for stalk deterioration, farmers need to grab a plant at chest height, pull it toward them until it is at an angle and let go; if the stalk snaps back and stands up, it is strong. It’s weak if it falls over, said Lee.

If farmers find weak stalks in their fields, they may want to go ahead and harvest those fields first. Lee said that if the state were to get heavy rain or strong winds before these fields are harvested, lodging could occur; this would make harvest difficult and possibly cause crop loss.

The shelling of corn usually starts by the end of August or the beginning of September, and is usually done by the first of October, said Fourqurean, who added that farmers with irrigated ground had a better chance of getting more corn shelled.

Other crops, such as soybeans and double-crop beans, have also been affected, and some of those soybean crops have started to dry up and more rain is needed, Fourqurean said.

The people who have been able to water their tobacco will likely have a decent year, but those who haven’t had that opportunity will probably not have a good yield, although figures won’t be available until they start stripping the tobacco in October and November, said Fourqurean.

“There are a lot of pastures that have dried up, and folks are already feeding hay,” Fourqurean said. “The last couple of months have been really tough on everybody.”

Fourqurean stated that hay is normally fed later in the fall, usually in October or November, but farmers who have livestock have already started because they don’t have any pasture.

Producers who haven’t started harvesting in this area, and those farther east, need to scout for problems, so they’ll know which fields to harvest first, said Lee.

Fortunately, farmers have been careful not to suffer from heat stroke or heat exhaustion, with many working a lot earlier and taking a break during the heat of the day and working later in the afternoon, according to Fourqurean.

“I think folks have been doing that for several years now,” Fourqurean said. “Our folks are educated enough to know what they need to do.”

UK agriculture and natural resources extension agents in far western Kentucky are reporting significant yield losses in the portion of the crop that has already been harvested.

Tom Miller, Ballard County’s agent, said his county’s yields are ranging from 100 to 140 bushels per acre with average yields around 130. The National Agricultural Statistics Service estimated the county’s 2009 average yield at 167 bushels per acre.

More information about drought declaration criteria can be found in the Kentucky Drought Mitigation and Response Plan online at http://water.ky.gov/wa/Pages/DroughtMitigationRAC.aspx.

State Climatologist Dr. Stuart Foster and Katie Pratt of the University of Kentucky's School of Agriculture contributed to this story.
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