By Doug Graves
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Calloway County, Ky., farmers are anxiously waiting for some much-needed rain to help hydrate their crops. Roughly one quarter of the state is abnormally dry, even after a cold front brought some relief to farmers the second week in July.
But in Murray, in the far western portion of the state, rain in still needed.
Justin Holland, Murray’s official government weather observer for the National Weather Service’s Paducah office, said Calloway County is currently classified by the U.S. Drought Monitor as D0, which means it is abnormally dry and approaching drought conditions.
“We are at 25 straight days with no measurable rainfall here in Murray,” Holland said. “The last day we had measurable rain was June 7. We have had a total of 1.47 inches of rain for the month of June, and the average for June is 4.06 inches, so we were about 2.59 inches below normal for an average June.”
Tony Brannon, dean of Murray State University’s Hutson School of Agriculture, said the lack of rainfall has been bad enough, but the recent heat waves have also done substantial damage to crops in the area.
“I always say, ‘Regardless of how much rain we have, we are always 10 days away from a drought,’ so going without rain for 20 days has drastically impacted our crops, especially since we’ve had so many 95-100 degree days,” Brannon said. “A lot of corn is at the critical tasseling stage and may not fully recover even if it does rain soon. Pastures are drying up and livestock farmers are beginning to think about having to feed hay. We always look for the bright side, and the bright side is that wheat harvest proceeded without rain delays and soybean planting went quickly. Now we just need rain for emergence and growth.”
In Spencer County in central Kentucky, the lack of rain remains critical. Some say that just four or five more days without substantial rainfall will prove devastating to the area.
Bryce Roberts, extension agent for agriculture and natural resources for the Spencer County Extension office, is seeing the critical situation throughout his county and adjacent counties.
“Our crops are at a critical point, with corn ears beginning to produce and soybeans setting their pods, stages of growth that need more moisture than nature is currently providing,” Roberts said. “We’re in a serious situation, and I hope that it will alleviate itself sooner than later. There are some areas of the state that can irrigate their crops but unfortunately for smaller producers here in our area, we’re not set up to be able to do that.”
However some parts of Kentucky did see rainfall the week of July 4-10 according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service Kentucky field office. Parts of the state saw 1-2 inches, although there were some pockets that only had half an inch.
In western Kentucky, the counties of Christian, Todd and Union saw 2.22 inches or greater during that week.
In central Kentucky, the counties of Clinton and Warren witnessed 2.44 and 2.82 inches respectively. In the Bluegrass region (north central), the rains were a welcome sight. Franklin County saw 2.77 inches of relief while the eastern portion of the state saw the most rainfall. Harlan, Lawrence, Pike and Pulaski counties saw 2.25-4.32 inches of rain.
While the rain was welcome, it wasn’t enough to solve all the drought problems some farmers are facing.
“It’s been, you know, roughly 10 years since we’ve had a really tough, hot, dry growing season to have to contend with,” said Nathan Lawson of Lawson Farms. He farms in Spencer and Nelson counties.
Along with raising cattle, Lawson Farms grows soybeans and corn. Lawson said the farm has done all it can do to prepare the crops. Now, they say, it’s up to Mother Nature.
“Everything’s been fertilized, everything’s been sprayed, and we’re just waiting on the rain to get us to harvest,” he said.
Others agree that the situation is dire. Rain is needed, and needed sooner than later. Dan McKemy, with the National Weather Service in Louisville, said he and other meteorologists have recorded “abnormally dry conditions” for this time of year.
“Over the past 30 days, Kentucky has seen between 50-75 percent of rainfall that would normally be expected,” McKemy said.
The NASS July 11 Crop Progress and Condition report detailed that corn was 51 percent silking while 15 percent of the crop was in the milk stage. Three percent of corn was doughing. Corn condition continued to deteriorate despite recent rain. Excessive heat during pollination may impact yields for some corn producers.
Soybeans do not demand as much water as corn and experts said they have a good chance to weather a dry period.
“Soybeans are not at a critical point like corn,” said Chad Lee, director of the University of Kentucky Grain and Forage Center of Excellence. “However, Kentucky led the United States in crop decline of the first full week of July. That’s not an area where we want to be in first place.”
NASS reported that 98 percent of Kentucky soybeans were emerged with 30 percent of the crop blooming. The overall condition of the soybean crop was mostly fair as heat and drought have been a detriment. The average height of the soybean plant in this state was 16 inches.