Saturday, September 14, 2002

[photo] Justin Bruce holds an ear of corn damaged by drought
(Michael Snyder photo)
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Local crops small, wilted

Drought-damaged pumpkins won't win any prizes

By Randy McNutt,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        WEST CHESTER TWP. — This could be the year of Mini Jack-O-Lantern.

        “The pumpkin crop is hurting,” said Wilma Shepherd of David Shepherd Farms Inc. in Butler County.

        So, too, are squash, green beans, sweet corn — just about every crop has been hampered or damaged by the region's continuing drought.

        It's a tenet of Agriculture 101: no rain, no gain.

        Mrs. Shepherd, who works in her son's big farm market on Ohio 747, walked over to a counter and picked up a cardboard box filled with puny red, green and yellow peppers.

        “They're so small,” she said. “Of course, everything else is a lot smaller than it's supposed to be, too. The weather has really hurt the produce. It was bad in '99, but nothing like this.”

[photo] Bruce, of Major's Farm and Supply in Monroe, looks over dried up corn in one of the farm's fields Friday.
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        The relentless heat, which this week finally retreated, has joined forces with the dry weather to strangle the crops in the fields around Mr. Shepherd's farm.

        “You had to irrigate the sweet corn to get any this year,” she said. “The drought seemed to hit the white corn harder than the other kinds. I don't know why. Pumpkins won't be nearly as big as usual, either. We have no green beans at all. We do have tomatoes, which shocks me. We're getting them but we don't even water them.”

        Some veteran farmers say the drought is the worst they've seen since the 1930s, certainly since the late 1980s, said Kevin Fall of the Ohio State University's agricultural extension office in Butler County.

        “Farmers struggled to get the crops in the ground due to a wet spring,” he said. “Then a sudden and extended hot, dry spell devastated the crops in many areas.”

        Fortunately, enough corn and other crops will be available to satisfy the needs of consumers, Mr. Fall said, but food companies might raise prices to maintain profits while the public is still aware of the drought.

        “Farmers will feel the blow when they harvest, and yields are dramatically lower than usual,” he said. “Then, since about 50 percent of all corn goes back into the farm market in animal feeds, the farmer will be hit with high feed prices due to the shortage and the quantity and quality of corn.”

        “This has been one of the most stressful seasons on alfalfa and other forages that I can remember,” said Steve Bartels, a Butler County extension agent.

        Bruce Goodwin, of Goodwin Farms in Warren County, said he's had only 3 inches of rain in Pleasant Plain since June 5, and half of that came on Aug. 19.

        “It's not good and certainly not what we expected,” he said. “We had all the rain early. And when it doesn't rain in the growing season, you're in trouble. I don't know about the soybeans. We might lose up to half of it. I won't know until I get into it.”

        Southern Indiana farmers also face drought problems.

        The hardest-hit part of state runs parallel to the Ohio River, said Ellsworth Christmas, soybean extension agronomist with Purdue University in Lafayette.

        “Last month, soybean-yields predictions were down 16 percent and that hasn't improved,” he said. “Southeast Indiana will be damaged the worst, especially Franklin and Fayette counties, which have suffered enough. They went for nearly two months with little or no rain. Once the soybean leaves turn yellow (approaching maturity soon), any rain from then on will essentially be of no value to the crop.”

        In Kentucky, dry conditions are damaging burley tobacco that's curing in barns, said Nick Carter, a tobacco extension agent with Fayette County in Lexington.

        “It's a bad situation,” he said. “Tobacco in barns is drying down too quickly. We had more than sufficient rainfall in the spring, but the spigot shut off and now we're hurting.”

        This summer has been the 18th-driest in the 108 years since records have been kept, according to the University of Kentucky's agricultural meteorologists.

        Ohio corn production has declined 23 percent from last year, extension agents say, and about half of the state's farmers are expecting crop losses of 30 to 50 percent.


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