News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

July 7, 2013

180 degrees in 365 days: While farmers suffered through drought in 2012, 2013 has brought downpour after downpour

June 2012 saw 0.23 inches of rain, while 8.79 inches fell in 2013

TERRE HAUTE — The week of June 24, Marty Evans measured more than 11 inches of rain on land he farms in southern Vigo and Clay counties — including 8 inches measured in just one day.

But he’s not complaining, especially when he looks back at last year’s drought. So far this year, his farmland has drained pretty well and he’s optimistic about his corn, soybean and wheat crops.

 He anticipates yields will be above average.

“I would say this year is completely the opposite of the 2012 crop year,” when a prolonged drought and intense heat brought with it “a lot of losses,” he said.

That’s not to say Evans wouldn’t like to see more sunshine. “We’re a little too wet right now,” he said last week. “We need sunshine and dry weather to keep the crops good.”

Evans has a 4,500-acre family farm, Be-N-Ag,  in southern Vigo and Clay counties.

If the soggy weather pattern and heavy rains continue for a long period, “We’d probably lose some potential crop,” he said.

With too much moisture, the ground becomes saturated and plants can’t get oxygen at their roots.

“We did have to replant about 140 acres” of corn earlier in the season because of excessive moisture, he said.

Also, soybeans have started to turn yellow, the result of too much moisture.

What a difference a year makes

Last year in June, Vigo County recorded 0.23 inches of rain, more than 4 inches below normal. In the last half of the month, temperatures frequently hit the 90s — reaching 106 degrees on two days, according to National Weather Service data.

Last month, the county had 8.79 inches on average, more than 4 inches higher than normal, according to the National Weather Service. The average temperature was 72.2, slightly below normal.

Statewide, Indiana has had 26.25 inches of rain on average in the first six months of the year, said Ken Scheeringa, associate state climatologist with Purdue University.

That’s 5.6 inches more than the average, which is 20.65 inches. “That’s 30 percent higher than a normal year,” he said.

Last year, it was in “just the opposite direction,”  Scheeringa said. In the first six months of 2012, the state average was 14.48 inches of rain, or 6.17 inches less than normal. “That’s about 70 percent of normal,” he said.

Wabash Valley farmers spent last summer “on edge” about drought and high temperatures, said Jim Luzar, of the Vigo County Purdue Extension office.

It’s a different picture this time around. Rainfall has been variable across the Wabash Valley to the extent that some farmers wouldn’t mind having a little more rain, while a few farmers in isolated areas have likened it to the 2008 flood, Luzar said.

There are pockets, especially in southern Vigo and northern Sullivan counties, that have seen water damage to crops, he said.

But Luzar said that, at his farm in Putnam County, “Corn looks really good.”

Wabash Valley farmers could see varied growing conditions. “There is going to be a lot of variability in plant health and progress based on planting dates, rainfall accrued and soil types,” Luzar said.

Fred Wilson, who farms in southern Vigo County — about two-thirds of it riverbottom land — describes this year as “the polar opposite” of last year.

This year, “We didn’t plant anything until May 15. We were done planting before then last year,” he said. Wilson, who grows corn and soybeans, has been thwarted in his planting effort by heavy, frequent rain and a swollen Wabash River. “We have about 300 acres we haven’t planted yet,” he said.

Unless the Wabash River is down to around 7 or 8 feet, the moisture stays under the soil, preventing planting on the lower ground. On Thursday, the river stage was 9.68 feet and falling; flood stage is 14 feet.

Wilson tells friends, “I’d rather see it burn up than flood … with flooding, you’re guaranteed nothing. With a drought, you have poor yields, but that’s better than nothing.”

At this point, he expects to come out ahead of last year. On the higher ground, “Everything is great,” he said.

But if there should be a lot of rain from the north and the river stage rises, that will take a toll. With a 20-foot river, “Half of my farm will make nothing,” he said.

Illinois farmers faring no better

Gary Garzolini, who farms in Edgar County, Illinois, and northwestern Vigo County, said all the rain “slowed me down in getting my crops out. Normally, I would plant corn from April 15 to 25.” This year, he said, most of it was planted between May 17 and 23.

He had to replant about 25 acres of soybeans that didn’t emerge after a heavy rain.

“There’s been plenty of moisture. Right now, we need more sunshine and heat” to get crops matured and into production stage, Garzolini said.

Also, there’s been a delay in harvesting winter wheat because of the rains. Fair weather conditions on Thursday and Friday gave him a window to make some progress, and he was hoping for a few more days of the same. “We’re on a roll today,” he said Friday.

This year’s outlook is much better than a year ago, Garzolini said. “Given the moisture and the way the crops look now, it will have to be better. Last year was miserable as far as the harvest; there was not much to harvest,” he said.

In fact, some farmers are saying “it looks so good it kind of scares you. Hopefully we don’t run into late July storms or anything like that, which can damage stalks or beans,” he said.

Garzolini and his brother own about 300 acres and sharecrop another 600 acres.

Earl Breon, National Weather Service meteorologist, said the outlook for the next two weeks is for above-normal precipitation in central Indiana, including the Terre Haute area.

For the rest of the month, there are equal (50/50) chances of above or below normal precipitation; the same is true for the three-month outlook.

For the next week, there is at least a 20 percent chance of showers or thunderstorms each day through Thursday, with a greater likelihood of rain this weekend and Tuesday, Breon said.

According to Associated Press, Illinois is breaking records when it comes to rainfall in 2013. January to June marked the wettest six months on record for the state, which saw a total precipitation of 28.7 inches.

The state’s average precipitation last month was 5.2 inches, almost one inch higher than the Illinois’ 30-year average and more than double the total rainfall from June 2012.

The two wettest areas in Illinois were in northern Illinois and an area just south of Interstate 70. The town of Flora in southern Illinois got 12.6 inches of rain last month, according to AP.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

 

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