Drought takes toll on corn crops in southwest Minnesotaby Mark Steil, Minnesota Public Radio
LEOTA, Minn. — When Kyle VanDyke eyes the clouds moving in over his farm in southwest Minnesota, he hopes they deliver much-needed rain.
That would be a welcome change. For most of the summer, Van Dyke said, the weather has been "extremely hot and dry."
In some parts of Minnesota, crops continue to deteriorate because of hot, dry weather. The worst-hit areas of southwest Minnesota have corn fields that will yield half the crop that had been expected — or less.
With drought threatening even more severe damage in other parts of the country, the federal government is stepping in with assistance.
When the precipitation comes on VanDyke's farm, it's very light — not even enough to wet the ground underneath drought-damaged corn stalks. Only a few drops plop onto the corn plants.
That's pretty much been the story since early June, said VanDyke, who can remember only two measureable rains. And they were barely enough to help.
"We had a couple tenths of rain June 20, and a little under a tenth last week sometime," he said. "For the two months that's been it."
Instead of a healthy dark green, the corn stalks in front of VanDyke are mottled with yellow and brown. The result is this corn crop has been severely damaged.
VanDyke said he had planned to harvest the corn as grain. But he said the field is so far gone the best value now is to chop up the stalks to use as feed for dairy cows.
Like most farmers, VanDyke has crop insurance which will cover much of the financial loss. He's likely to need the coverage because the loss is so severe.
It's so dry in some parts of southwest Minnesota that some of the corn stalks failed to develop an ear, crop consultant Jim Nesseth said.
But they tried. On one stalk a tuft of ear silk sticks out — the remains of a futile attempt. The field is too far gone to salvage, but Nesseth said others could still make good.
"I'm still hopeful for a lot of fields in this area, that if we get some moisture we'll still have a respectful yield," he said.
There is wide variation in the quality of crops this summer. About 10 miles from the VanDyke farm, Nesseth stopped his truck at a field that looks as good as any in the state. Some of the stalks have something unusual that usually signals a top producing field: two ears — not just one.
"I get excited looking at this," Nesseth said. "This is going to be a nice crop. I'd say it's 10 feet tall. Dark-green color, no leaf disease, just looks incredibly good."
Luckily for the farmer, the field was lucky to be in the path of a few more rain showers than most southwest Minnesota land, Nesseth said.
That's kept the corn healthy.
"There's been about a two-, three-mile radius where they've gotten this type of moisture," he said. "And they feel very fortunate they're going to get this."
With adequate rain the rest of the summer the field could produce an above-average yield. But Nesseth said even if it stays dry, the acres will still yield a decent crop, one that's only a little below average.
The wide variation in crop conditions in southwest Minnesota is being seen in drought-affected areas all across the country, something U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack saw as he toured dry areas of southern Iowa last weekend.
"I saw everything from significant damage to crops that looked in pretty good shape," Vilsack said.
Vilsack said the federal government will offer assistance to farmers hurt by the drought, including an easing of restrictions on certain lands.
Farmers with land in the Conservation Reserve Program will be able to cut the grass on the land for use as hay or allow livestock to graze on those acres. Since farmers are paid a fee to idle the acres, normally they can't use the land for any type of agricultural production.
Another effect of the drought, which covers most of the Midwest, has yet to be felt. Grain prices have risen to record levels because the dry weather is likely to crimp supplies. That's expected to push food prices higher.
The federal government will provide an early indication of the size of food inflation on Wednesday, when it releases its next food price forecast.
- Morning Edition, 07/24/2012, 8:25 a.m.