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April 25 • 06:14 PM
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Arid waves of grain


Farmers say dry summer trumps memorable drought of 1988



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Patterson says he’d like to think that his no-till and deep tillage practices have benefited some of the crop.
August 08, 2007
TRI-CITY AREA — The summer of '88—farmers remember it well.

After this year, it will probably be trumped by 2007 as the Tri-City area's driest growing season in recent memory. Farmers, crop insurers and the federal government have already begun assessing losses in the drought-stricken fields.

"It's not good," Michigan State University Extension Director and and crops educator Phil Kaatz said.

The promise of great returns on corn, thanks to ethanol demands, won't be fully realized. Kaatz said the crop went without moisture during several crucial development stages.

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"We'll see half a crop at best," he said.

John Patterson, who farms 200 acres of corn, calls the situation "disheartening."

"The corn is just too far gone," he says.

If it had rained in mid-July, like it eventually did to ease conditions in 1988, it might have had a chance, Patterson believes.

The condition of one of Patterson's Shoemaker Rd. fields varies. Some stalks are matchstick thin and the leaves have curled in an effort to conserve moisture. At an apparent wet spot, the plants are tall and green.

Unfortunately, the corn's value for silage is also affected by the dry weather. Increased levels of nitrate can be found in the bottom part of the plant. Kaatz suggests livestock owners consult the extension before chopping.

Patterson holds out more hope for his soybeans. He's been foliar feeding them and the plants are loaded with blossoms.

Kaatz said the beans may be the one crop to see average yields, but only if they receive adequate rainfall in August. Since the Tri-City area received steady showers on Tuesday (August 7), that's a good possibility.

"Soybeans have the ability to compensate for dry weather more than any of the other crops...they have a greater capacity to overcome the stress," he said.

As for forages, farmers shouldn't expect to take off any more cuttings, Kaatz said, and since most pastures are just as bare, livestock owners have been forced to feed hay they baled just this spring, depleting their stocks for the winter.

To compound the dryness, potato leaf hoppers have also damaged some alfalfa fields.

Those who can irrigate have done just that. Gary Brandt of Lindy's Pre-Pack Carrots in Imlay Twp. said they've been forced to haul out the irrigation pipes. Harvest started last week.

"We don't like to irrigate...it's certainly not the norm," Brandt said.

Although it ensures a better crop, it can be a steep expense some farms weren't expecting.

Andrew Calcaterra, executive director of the Lapeer County USDA field office, said he's in the midst of gathering loss estimates and expects to be busy with that task for months to come.

Then they'll wait for an emergency designation from the state which will allow farmers to make loss claims for disaster aid money.

Producers with crop insurance should contact their insurer, Calcaterra said.

As of Monday, the Tri-City area has seen between one to two inches of precipitation over the last 60 days, according to the National Weather Service. That's far below the average of seven inches typically seen over June and July.

To discuss silage chopping options, contact Kaatz at 667-0341, and for more information about USDA crop loss programs contact Calcaterra at 664-0895.

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