TERRE HAUTE —
From fireworks to sweet corn, the Summer of 2012 could be a fizzle if the sky won’t even drizzle.
That was the talk Saturday morning, as shoppers milled about the Downtown Terre Haute Farmers Market off North Ninth Street and Wabash Avenue. Vendors said the drought is taking its toll.
“It’s killing us,” said Chris Gambill, Terre Haute attorney and owner of Heron Bay Farms. “Everything is up and in a holding pattern,” he said. He’s never irrigated his plots before but is now considering it. “Things aren’t dying yet, but they’re not growing.”
Gambill had Polish radishes on display next to duck and chicken eggs that morning. But the yields on his southern Vigo County plots aren’t what he’d like them to be.
In discussing the situation with a 95-year-old farmer, Gambill said his friend recalled the last June he’d seen this dry was in the 1930s amid the Great Dust Bowl. The ground, he said, is so dry that yields vary even within the same square foot depending on what little moisture is present.
“So I have all these staggered germinations in the same row,” he said of his radishes in particular.
Ray Edwards, owner of Arrowhead Family Farm near St. Mary-of-the-Woods, said he’s watering his produce with the well on his property, but at some point he might have to haul in water.
“We need rain really bad. I water as much as I can,” he said, standing behind a table of zucchini and cucumbers for sale. “Right now it’s hard to say what percentage of the yields will be affected.”
Sunday afternoon, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security reported 54 of the state’s 92 counties had some form of burn ban in place, and farmers groaned amid the silence that should be full of crackling corn growth.
Marc Dahmer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Indianapolis, said the next best chance for rain will come next weekend, but there’s not much confidence in those models at present.
“The issue is moisture. We just don’t have a lot of moisture to work with,” he said, explaining fronts continue to move through the area but can’t seem to generate more than a trace amount of precipitation.
June’s precipitation through Sunday remained at the 0.23 of an inch mark, where it’s been for days. Terre Haute’s precipitation year-to-date remained at 12.53 inches, considerably less than the normal amount of 21.91 inches, Dahmer reported.
Referencing the U.S. Drought Monitor, which has placed 80 percent of Indiana and 70 percent of Illinois in the drought zone, Dahmer said states from Arkansas to Kentucky are likewise being impacted. Northern states seem to be faring better.
“The heat’s definitely going to be with us this week, especially mid-week and afterwards,” he said, noting temperatures should fall to the low 80s today and tomorrow, but rise to 90 Wednesday and the upper 90s Thursday.
J.D. Kessler, deputy director of the Vigo County Emergency Management Agency, said Vigo County’s burn ban remains in place through Friday. While fireworks aren’t banned by the order, residents are strongly advised to be cautious with their use.
“My only thing to tell people is to use good judgment and caution during this period because of the weather,” he said.
Meanwhile, agriculture experts continue to track the potential impact on yields. According to a crop report issued by Purdue University, only 37 percent of this season’s Indiana corn crop was rated good to excellent as of June 17.
And while many farmers recall the drought that spanned 1987 to 1989, the Purdue report observed that by June 17, 1988, less than 5 percent of the corn crop was listed as good to excellent. Yields that year, according to the report, ended 31 percent below the predicted trend.
The result this growing season will hinge on when the rains return, and according to the Indiana State Climate Office at Purdue, the outlook for July is above-normal temperatures matched with below-normal precipitation. A return to normal precipitation isn’t expected until late July or early August, according to that report.
Dan Egle, a Purdue plant pathologist based at the university’s agriculture center north of Vincennes, said the upside is that farmers with irrigation systems in place should have a very fine year.
“But the people who aren’t irrigated are in some trouble, I think,” he said.
Egle specializes in melons, which are raised in abundance amid the sandier soils of the state’s southwestern counties. Hoosier farmers plant about 8,000 acres of watermelons each year, expecting yields between 40,000 and 45,000 pounds per acre.
“The lion’s share of that’s down here,” he said, referencing a stretch including Sullivan, Daviess, Knox, Gibson and Posey counties. And all of those counties happen to be located in the middle of the U.S. Drought Monitor’s severe zone.
Only about half of the melon growers in that region irrigate, he said, and those farms are looking at a great crop. The “silver lining” to this year’s drought is a significant reduction in fungus and pests, he said, explaining plant disease such as gummy stem blight and anthracnose don’t fare well in the dry heat. This means farmers can afford to skimp a bit on expensive fungicides, which can mean increasing their profits.
“It wouldn’t be unusual to spend $50 an acre for one application of fungicide,” he said. “And it’s not unusual to have 100 acres, and it’s not unusual to spray eight times a year.”
Egle said the cost of inputs to grow one acre of melons is roughly $2,500, and all that has to be in the ground long before any revenue is generated.
The cost and availability of irrigation systems can be prohibitive for many, he said. The issue isn’t limited to the price of drip tape and center pivots. If a farmer rents his ground, Egle said, the decision is shared with the landlord, who would have to pay for a sufficient well to be drilled.
“I don’t think the consumer will notice anything, though,” he said, citing the number of other states that produce melons. Melons are relatively cheap, and so the price increase associated with lower local supply shouldn’t be prohibitive, he said.
But that won’t do much for local farmers, who look to the sky in hopes of more than the sound of fireworks’ rumble.
Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or email@example.com.
Dry crops failing, concerns growing
TERRE HAUTE —
From fireworks to sweet corn, the Summer of 2012 could be a fizzle if the sky won’t even drizzle.
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