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Archive for Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Area farmers try to salvage withered corn

Soybean outlook also bleak

August 20, 2003

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It's as bad as it looks.

Lawrence-area farmers have begun harvesting their withered fields of corn, and the results have been predictable -- small kernels of corn starved by a lack of moisture.

It marks the third consecutive year near-drought conditions have marred the harvest.

"It is nothing like a normal year," said Jim Carpenter, whose Eudora Feed & Grain began accepting loads of corn Monday. "I'd say the crop is about 50 percent of what it would be in a decent year."

Carpenter said yields in some county fields might reach 80 bushels an acre, but the average would be closer to 50 bushels an acre.

That would be down from last year's below-average harvest, which produced about 75 bushels an acre. The average yield for the county during the past six years has been about 105 bushels an acre.

Chris Hetherington, of Ottawa Co-op's South Lawrence elevator, said his elevator began receiving corn Monday. Not only were yields low, so were test weights. He said much of the corn had test weights of about 52 pounds per bushel. Corn less than 56 pounds per bushel is considered less than top grade.

The harvest is starting about three weeks ahead of schedule.

"They're taking it now because if they don't take it now the wind will blow it down because the stalks are just so dry and brittle," Carpenter said.

The corn harvest is under way in Douglas County. George Abel,
Eudora, who has 65 acres of corn, was harvesting his crop Tuesday
afternoon in a field northeast of Eudora. Farmers began harvesting
about three weeks early to try to salvage some of the below-average
crops.

The corn harvest is under way in Douglas County. George Abel, Eudora, who has 65 acres of corn, was harvesting his crop Tuesday afternoon in a field northeast of Eudora. Farmers began harvesting about three weeks early to try to salvage some of the below-average crops.

The poor corn crop may be just the beginning of fall harvest problems for area farmers. The outlook for the county's soybean crop, which generally is harvested in late September, is declining by the day.

"I think we're in for a lot worse year than last year," said rural Eudora farmer Bobby Gabriel. "As a matter of fact, I think the beans are beyond a rain. I think they're done for. I'm not sure there even will be a bean harvest around here."

Last year's soybean crop averaged 22 bushels per acre, said Douglas County Extension agent Bill Wood. He said he couldn't imagine this year's crop "will even come close to that."

Gabriel said some farmers may choose to bale their beans to feed to livestock or plow them under rather than spend money on fuel to harvest the crop.

The loss could have a big impact on the Lawrence-area economy. Soybeans and corn are the two biggest cash crops for Douglas County farmers, who plant about 45,000 acres of soybeans and about 25,000 acres of corn.

Gabriel, who has about 1,800 acres of corn and about 2,600 acres of soybeans, said another poor harvest would take its toll on farmers' finances. He said this year's above-average wheat harvest probably wouldn't soften the blow, because very little wheat is planted in the county.

"I think the farmers are definitely going to be hurting again this year," Gabriel said. "It will just be interesting to see how the banks handle it more than anything."

Gabriel said crop insurance would help farmers recover some of the costs associated with planting and harvesting the crops, but said it likely wouldn't produce an income for farmers to live on. He said many area farmers likely will have to draw on savings and simply cut expenses.

"That is about all you can do," Gabriel said. "That and hope that your banker will let you go another year."

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