IL drought taking its toll

To any regular passer-by, the corn fields in Illinois might look just fine. Yet despite the green crops, there is a serious problem.


"The rain missed the crucial time for the corn: the pollination period."

—Adam Nielsen

To any regular passer-by, the corn fields in Illinois might look just fine. Yet despite the green crops, there is a serious problem.

"To a farmer it's as plain as the nose on their face," said Adam Nielsen, spokesperson for the Illinois Farm Bureau. "There aren't many ears and they're not filling out, and the corn is half the height it should be. There are big cracks in the soil."

Most of Illinois is in the grip of a drought. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly drought graphic created by the National Weather Service and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, most of the state is experiencing either extreme or severe drought conditions.

"For the March through July time period, it was the sixth driest time period since 1895," said Jim Angel, the Illinois state climatologist. "That's pretty significant."

The drought is so severe that 101 of the the state's 102 counties were declared agriculture disaster areas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Angel said the the north and eastern part of the state are running at about an eight to 10 inch rain deficit right now. Southern Illinois is four to six inches short.

At this point, the corn crop is beyond repair.

"The rain missed the crucial time for the corn: the pollination period," explained Nielsen. "May, June and July should've been full of beneficial rain, but it just wasn't happening. Fifty-six percent of the corn crop is in poor or very poor condition. Thirty-four percent of the soybean crop is in poor to very poor condition.

"For a state that was number one in soybean production and number two in corn production last year, this is bad."

The remnants of Hurricane Dennis did bring some relief to parts of the state, but not enough to alleviate the drought. Angel said the soybean crop may still have a chance, but it certainly will not be a bumper crop.

"You might get something close to average if we get close to average August rainfall," he said.

And that is a hard situation for farmers who just came off a very productive 2004 harvest. Nielsen said when they took Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich on a tour of farms around the state recently, one farm was particularly shocking. The soybean farmer has a field that produced 195 bushels of soybeans last year, but due to the drought, he expected only about 10 bushels come harvest time this year.

Another challenge is how farmers will feed livestock that normally rely on hay and alfalfa harvests. Angel said most farmers will probably dip into their storage that was slated to feed the livestock over the winter - which means more expense come winter as that feedstock must be replaced.

The options for farmers right now, according to Nielsen and to the Illinois Department of Agriculture, are either utilizing their crop insurance or applying for a low-interest loan through the federal disaster declaration.

"These decisions will be made after the harvest. The farmers will examine the crop to see if they'll make enough to fund planting next year's crop," said Jeff Squibb, spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

"The governor has also instructed his staff to examine the state budget for other possible relief, but nothing has been announced at this point."

Dry conditions are also ravaging much of Missouri as well. Missouri Governor Matt Blunt toured farms around the state on Thursday and is expected to seek a federal declaration from the USDA as well.

"It is difficult to understand the devastating impact of drought until you see it first hand. Drought is a natural disaster that can damage farming operations every bit as much as a tornado or a flood," Blunt said in a news release.

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More links on Drought


Related Links:

U.S. Drought Monitor

Illinois Farm Bureau

Illinois Department of Agriculture


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