News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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August 1, 2012

Farmers framing strategies for dealing with loss

Meeting set to help them cope with conditions resulting from drought

TERRE HAUTE — A withered corn stalk with one small ear of corn rested on the desk of Purdue Extension Educator Jim Luzar on Tuesday.

 The bottom of the stalk was split open, and four dark stains from a Quick Nitrate Test revealed that the lack of moisture in the plant had caused a lethal level of nitrate to accumulate.

That means the failed corn crop cannot be simply harvested as hay and dumped into a pasture for cattle. It should be harvested as silage and allowed to ferment, which will dissipate the nitrate.

The hay or silage issue is just one of many scenarios for farmers that will be discussed in a drought resource meeting planned for next week by the Purdue Extension Service in Vigo County.

Set for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 9 in the floriculture building at the Vigo County Fairgrounds, the meeting will feature agriculture experts talking to farmers and livestock producers about  topics such as crop insurance, marketing this year’s crop, forage and feeding options, and how high corn prices will go.

Luzar said many growers are now trying to “minimize the loss” for 2012.

According to this week’s crop and weather report from Purdue University, the current drought conditions have either caused complete crop losses or put crops a few weeks away from complete loss if significant rainfall is not received.

The crop condition of corn has 69 percent in the very poor to poor range, with only 9 percent of the state’s corn crop in the good to excellent range. Last year at this time, 41 percent of the state’s corn crop was reported at good to excellent.

Pastures for cattle are also hurting — 89 percent are in very poor to poor. That has led some farmers to consider cutting their failing corn crops for use as cattle feed. Many farmers got only one good cutting of hay or alfalfa from their fields early this year, and that means hay prices will be going up later this year as farmers try to find food for their livestock.

“What’s made this more complicated is the hay situation,” Luzar said of the drought

A small bale of hay is running $5 to $7, when it usually is around $3 a bale. Alfalfa in the Lawrence County area is running $12 for a 60-pound bale, he said.

That is why many farmers with livestock are considering cutting their losses on the corn crop and turning it into feed for their cattle. However, if the stalks are not allowed to ferment, they will contain a toxic amount of nitrate.

Another problem with this year’s corn crop is stalk health. Luzar said that a heavy wind can knock down stalks weakened by the drought.

“To be at the first of May, and to be in such a good position,” Luzar said, comparing the early planting season and pleasant weather, “it now looks like the farmers are going to be fighting this cross all the way through.”

If some rain comes soon, it may allow the ears of corn that have developed to fill out and firm up, he said, It will also help this year’s soybean crop, which is dependent on moisture to fill out the pods.

Another topic of discussion, Luzar said, will be how tenant farmers can talk to their landlords about the crop loss, and how they can deal with the loss of the shared income.

Speakers at the drought resource meeting will include specialists from Purdue, the extension service, Farm Service Agency, and Natural Resource Conservation Service.

For more information about this event, call the Vigo County extension office at (812) 236-6039.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.

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