Douglas County farmers began harvesting their corn crops this week, and area agriculture experts said farmers should expect a well-below-average harvest.
Area grain elevator operators said a handful of farmers have begun harvesting their corn crops. They said a majority of farmers would begin within the next two weeks, once the crop's moisture content begins to drop.
But Bill Wood, Douglas County agriculture extension agent, said no one was particularly looking forward to the harvest.
"It won't take long for the combines to go over these fields because there's not a lot of crop there to harvest," Wood said.
Pine Family Farms north of Lawrence is one of the few farms in the area that has begun full-scale cutting. Roger Pine, a partner in the business, said the couple of fields his crew had harvested were showing yields to be 20 percent to 25 percent less than last year.
"I still don't have a real good feel yet, but the fields we've cut were some of the earliest ones planted, so I'm thinking our other fields may yield even less," Pine said. "This harvest won't be one of our better ones for sure."
In July, Wood estimated the county's corn crop would average between 70 and 80 bushels per acre, well below the 2001 average of 109 bushels per acre. Since that estimate, Wood has grown pessimistic because the corn crops haven't grown.
"I think I'd better back off from those numbers even a little bit," Wood said. "I think for a countywide average it could end up being a little less than 70 bushels per acre.
"There may be some really good bottom ground that will still average 80, 90 or a 100, but we'll have quite a few fields that will average 20 or 30."
Some will be considerably worse, said Michael Smith, an employee for Eudora Feed & Grain. He said one customer had recently cut a 16-acre field that produced 26 bushels or about 1.6 bushels per acre.
He said many farmers were choosing to cut their corn crop early and use it for silage, a type of livestock feed, rather than harvest the crop.
"I've been noticing, I'd say about 3 to 5 percent more of the farmers in this area are just using their crop for silage," Smith said. "With the dry weather, it has just been a losing battle for most folks."
The less than average corn crop is going to significantly hit farmers' pocketbooks, Wood said.
According to statistics at the Douglas County Extension Service, the corn harvest has accounted for 15 percent to 20 percent of the average income of county farmers. If the harvest, as expected, checks in with average yields below 70 acres a bushel, the typical farmer may see his total income cut by 6 percent to 7 percent for the year, Wood said.
"They are probably looking at harvesting a crop that's at least 30 percent smaller than past years," Wood said. "Grain prices are a little better than they have been in the past, but they're not up enough to make up for that big of a loss in yields."
The area price per bushel of corn was $2.53 on Wednesday, compared to $1.90 on Aug. 21, 2001.
"It just all adds up to less money in their pocket," Wood said, "and that will mean a little less money for the grocery stores and the banks and all the other businesses in town."
Wood estimated the corn harvest likely would continue in the area until late October. The county's soybean harvest likely won't begin until late September or early October, he said.