Indiana's crops feeling stress as drought, high heat continue, with little relief in sight, U.S. Drought Monitor shows

Andrew Rogers

Andrew Rogers

Jun 28, 2012 – Purdue University

WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana , June 28, 2012 (press release) – Drought and high heat continue their stranglehold on Indiana, stressing crops and farmers - and there is little hope for relief on the horizon.

Most of the state is now in either moderate, severe or extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor ( released Thursday (June 28). Extreme drought - the second-highest level of drought - spread across southwest Indiana and developed in many counties in the northeast.

Areas faring relatively better are Indiana's extreme northwest and southeast counties, which are rated abnormally dry - a category designated to monitor possible future drought.

"It's quite disheartening to note that things are going downhill every passing day," said Dev Niyogi, Indiana state climatologist. "There is just not any rain coming at this point."

Because crops were planted early this spring, plants are at growth stages when they are transpiring moisture from the soil at a rapid rate, meaning soil moisture is being consumed faster than it can be replaced - even with a return to normal rainfall.

Much of Indiana's corn crop has entered pollination, a critical period in plant development. With extreme temperatures and no rain, pollination success is likely to vary widely from field to field and even within fields. Some fields could suffer complete pollination failure, said Bob Nielsen, Purdue Extension corn specialist.

"I don't know how much worse it could be in terms of a corn crop coming into pollination around the state," he said.

Pollination failure could spell disaster for the crop's yields. Nielsen encouraged growers to get out in their fields to assess damage and estimate yields as soon as pollen shed is complete.

Even if pollination is successful in some fields, he said growers aren't out of the woods. Triple-digit temperatures could combine with drought stress to cause plants to abort kernels in the next few weeks.

Nielsen said growers need to monitor fields throughout the remainder of the season and plan ahead for marketing and other financial decisions for harvest.

Farmers, agronomists and economists remember conditions in 1988, when a seasonlong drought devastated crops. There hasn't been a worse drought year since then.

"I'm not sure if we can yet say this is on par with '88, but I think we're a close second," Nielsen said. "There's no question this drought is getting worse, not better. I'm a heck of a lot more pessimistic than I was a couple of weeks ago."

Purdue Extension agricultural economist Chris Hurt estimated that corn yields could already be down by as much as 14 percent from what was projected at the beginning of the season. Early-season projections estimated Indiana's corn crop would yield about 166 bushels per acre. That number is now down to 142 bushels per acre.

Hurt said projected soybean yields are down 12 percent - from 49 bushels projected per acre at the start of the season to 42.5 bushels per acre now.

"Those yield prospects will drop further given the current weather forecast," he said.

The potentially good news for growers is that the commodities markets have taken notice of the reduced yields, with corn futures now trading 15 percent higher than they were early in the season. Soybean futures have made a smaller jump, up 7 percent.

But while higher prices could be a revenue balance for growers who have a crop, they do little to help those who lose an entire crop. They also have the potential to strain the budgets of livestock producers who rely on grain to feed their herds.

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