News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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July 29, 2012

Sweet success: blessed to have corn to sell in a year farmers don’t want to remember

TERRE HAUTE — In the year 2070, farmers such as Jason Raisner might still be hearkening back to the Drought of 2012.

He stood by his empty stand in the northeast corner of the Downtown Terre Haute Farmers Market Saturday. Sold out of the sweet corn he’d brought, his supply had lasted about two hours.

“We were blessed to have anything,” the 29-year-old from Cumberland County, Ill., said.

“It’s really bad. We’re at an 85-percent loss.”

Remarking that his 80-year-old grandfather has deemed this the worst drought he’s ever seen, Raisner said other growers have noted that 2012 is turning out to be significantly worse than 1988.

Despite irrigating his ground since May, his 10-acre sweet corn patch didn’t generate enough product for Raisner to participate in Tuesday’s market near Union Hospital.

In addition to the produce, Raisner said his family farms about 2,000 acres total in Illinois. This year’s corn crop is “a total loss,” he said, describing the best patches as producing 25 bushels to the acre, while most register nothing at all, compared with normal years with 150 to 160.

Bean plants with empty pods fill the fields, and crop insurance isn’t exactly a windfall, he added.

“You can take out different rates,” he said of the insurance, explaining the percentages offered are based on past yields. In the end, the insurance payout typically covers the cost of seed, but not fuel or other inputs. And that still leaves farmers without a paycheck until the next fall.

Meanwhile, Raisner is feeding silage to his cattle as his grandfather spreads molasses on oat stubble, trying to save what hay they have for the winter.

Across the parking lot, Ernie Biltz doled out boxes of peaches grown on his farm near Worthington. In addition to 400 peach trees, the property features greenhouses and about 10 acres of produce. Blitz said his area was fortunate to receive about 4 inches of rain in the last few weeks.

“It does make a difference. It’s still dry, but it does make a difference,” he said, estimating the season won’t last much longer this year. “It’s hurt. A lot of stuff is going to get done quick this year.”

Saturday afternoon, Luke Anderson was back at work on his property in northern Terre Haute. In addition to selling at the market that morning, Anderson’s Plants and Produce operates at his home at 6066 Rosedale Road. His 16-acre spread currently has about two acres in production, but the family has already given up any thought of a “cool-weather” crop for the fall season, even with considerable irrigation systems in place.

Anderson’s front garden, about 3⁄4 acre, sports black plastic mulch and drip tape, all attached to a pump that keeps the ground moist. Walking about his property, he points out the difference between the ground with the more advanced irrigation system and those plots with sprinklers and hoses is evident.

“That’s really helped us,” Anderson said. “If you weren’t irrigating this summer, it was just darn near impossible.”

But even with the system in place, and a pump running eight to 10 hours some days, lack of ground water and numerous days of 100-degree temperatures have crumpled the crops. A grower simply can’t dump enough water on corn to make it pollinate under these conditions, Anderson said, pointing to the rows of stunted dwarf stalks in his back plot. His melon crop has been strong this year, but other offerings have been impacted.

“And there’s nothing you can do about it,” he said, echoing the comments of others as he noted how much worse 2012 is than 1988.

“All the water you pour out of the well isn’t as good as Mother Nature.”

Anderson typically gets three seasons out of his plots, two “cool weather crops” with the summer session in between.

This year, the ground was too dry to bother planting for the fall, and so an entire season is gone there, he said.

Last year, the operation was generating a couple hundred pounds of tomatoes per week, with this year’s numbers between 30 and 50, he said. The pasture which generated 900 square bales of hay last year yielded 300 this season.

Even with irrigation, Anderson figures his production will be down 50 to 60 percent.

“We would typically have four more patches this size,” he said.

The 40-year-old Anderson, a compliance manager for Bridges of Indiana, said he and his wife started their small business as a simple garden, adding to it each season over the last nine years.

His neighbor, Andrew Conner, was among the organizers of the Downtown Terre Haute Farmers Market and got him involved back in 2004. The operation allows his wife to stay home with their kids, he said, adding they enjoy the work.

“We just started with a garden and we enjoyed it,” he said, adding they’ll be back in the game next year.



Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or brian.boyce@tribstar.com.

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