Drought worsens, leaves farmers with few options

Jul 19, 2012

The fields of corn surrounding Idaville in eastern White County look pretty sad. They’re not very tall and they’re starting to brown. Typically, these fields yield anywhere from 165-to-175 bushels per acre, but not this year.

“We’ve been counting ears the last couple days," says Brian Scott. "We’re thinking the good stuff is 120, if we’re accurate.”

Scott, who farms corn, soybeans, popcorn and wheat with his family on about 2,300 acres here thinks it could be less. He says the current conditions have dried up the fields and the optimism farmers had this spring. The Scotts finished planting April 23rd - the earliest they've ever finished and a promising start.

“And it stayed hot and pretty much never rained," he says. "We figure we’ve had about four inches and haven’t had a rain over an inch since the 1st of March.”

Scott was one of about 40 people who showed up Wednesday afternoon among withering cornfields to hear from U.S. Department of Agriculture officials. Undersecretary Michael Scuse talked about Washington’s response to the drought with the federal disaster declarations that seem to grow in number each week. Such a move allows for low-interest loan assistance for farmers dealing with losses.

“Your heart aches for producers because of all the hard work and money that goes into trying to produce a crop," Scuse says. "And with each and every day, the losses mount."

He says he knows from his own farmer experience what went into getting fields of corn and soybeans planted.

"You understand the work, the amount of money per acre that went into that and then to lose it all and try to come out of it next year," says Scuse. "It’s going to be difficult, it will be for a lot of producers.”

Scuse is one of several USDA officials touring parts of the country hardest hit by the drought. In addition to surveying the current situation, he says they want to hear from farmers on ways to improve federal programs.

Robert Smock is another farmer who was listening to Scuse and commiserating with his neighbors who face the same problem.

“It may not be a complete loss," he says. "But it’s going to be a very substantial amount of grain we’re not able to harvest, both corn and beans.”

He says there’s still a chance for soybeans, but it will take consistent rain to improve the crop. And now, the dry weather has brought out another problem – the spider mite.

“So you spray to keep the spider mites from getting out of control, which is $17 an acre. Then you turn around and if you don’t get rain, you’re not going to have a crop anyway," Smock says with a half-hearted chuckle. "You have to do what you can to protect your crop.”

Smock, like many farmers, has crop insurance, which covers most but not all of the losses suffered. He also has an irrigation system in some of his fields with sandy soil, but says that’s not for everyone.

“On really good soil, a lot of people choose not to, because, honestly, the better soils usually don’t have the drought effect. Now, this year that’s different, but more times than not in a normal year, you’re going to have great yields on good, quality ground.”

Most farmers at the event seem to be taking the drought in stride, saying this is an unusual year. They say all they can do is pray for rain, and hope next year is a normal season.