News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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September 22, 2012

Farmers looking at widely varying yields

TERRE HAUTE — Combines will roll through fields this weekend, bringing in the harvest from a summer with nearly no rain.

Charles Felling had his John Deere combine mowing through the corn rows Thursday and Friday, dodging rain as he poured the hoppers into dump trucks. With about 700 acres in corn this year, he said yields in fields were inconsistent.

“It’s all over the place,” he said from the combine.

And according to Jim Luzar of Vigo County’s Purdue Extension Office, that will be the theme from the “Drought of 2012.”

“We’re going to have the most variability in corn yields in the Wabash Valley that we’ve ever had,” he predicted.

One of his clients who farms south of Interstate 70 reported bringing in 15 bushels of corn per acre in some spots, but up to 140 in others. Other counties around the area are reporting fields with acreage ranging from six bushels to 130. Meanwhile, a White County farmer reported 175 bushels of corn per acre, but that area received significantly more rain that Vigo, Luzar pointed out.

“We were in the epicenter of the drought,” he said Friday afternoon, explaining the combination of record high temperatures and lack of moisture have certainly made their mark. Fields could see as much as 100-bushel-per-acre swings, he said, adding these early tallies don’t yet factor in the swaths of corn already chopped up for cattle field or simply plowed.

According to National Weather Service reports, 25 record high temperatures were recorded in Terre Haute between March 1 and July 26. Nearly a dozen days in July topped 100 degrees, with the coolest high temperature that month coming in at 86 degrees. Meanwhile, only 0.23 inch of precipitation fell in June, with less than an inch recorded between that month and July.

“In ’88, we got 2 to 3 inches of rain in July and it really helped,” Luzar said, contrasting this year’s yields with those in the 1988 drought. When the heat is factored in, this year was worse in some respects, and one would have to go back to the 1930s to find a similar combination, he said.

That means fall rain and winter snow melt will be needed in quantity to prepare for the 2013 season, he said. Grass has greened up with recent rains in August and September, but the subsoil is still dry.

Ken Scheeringa, associate climatologist for the State of Indiana, said researchers at Purdue are presently working to determine what might happen this winter. The Purdue University Climatology Lab expects to release a report with predictions Oct. 1.

Whereas meteorology tends to study weather in the shorter term, a week out or less, climatology looks at broader patters, he explained. In the case of a summer drought in Indiana, the cause is typically rooted in cooling waters in the Pacific Ocean, he explained.

“The rains do return generally in September,” he said of the pattern. But such summers can be quite dry, as was the one in 1988. But that’s a pattern, not a prophecy. “There’s no cook book.”

Luzar said farm revenues will likely vary too, as prices continue to climb due to lack of supply. While 120 bushels per acre might not be a tremendous yield, the gross revenue might seem high if corn is at $8 per bushel, he explained. And the price swings continue to widen, he said, pointing out that just five years ago corn was selling for $2.50 per bushel. This year the price swings per bushel have been greater than that.

The price increase will result in costlier seed corn and beans for the 2013 season, and the yields from South American farmers this winter will play a role in the global supply, as drought-ridden states such as Indiana are typically world leaders. The cost of feed for livestock will increase as well, ultimately translating into higher costs in grocery stores.

“And we’re seeing that,” he said, noting livestock producers are already shifting strategies to deal with the situation.

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

 

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