Recent rain has greened up some lawns, but not Pat Ross’ 2,400-acre corn crop. It’s beyond saving.
The rains shut off in June and July, when Ross’ corn needed it most. Ross, of North Lawrence, could only watch out his office window, as storms passed over him and his crop wilted.
“It’s emotionally draining to see them wither and die,” said Ross, of Nunemaker-Ross Farms. “It’s probably the largest loss of crop in the smallest period of time I think I have ever seen.”
According to the National Weather Service, just 0.18 of an inch of rain fell in Lawrence between June 1 and July 12. That’s 5.5 inches less than average. Temperatures in July are supposed to be in the 90s, not 108 degrees.
“It’s devastated it (the corn crop) with the hot, dry temps,” said Matthew Vajnar, Ottawa Co-op grain merchandiser.
Vajnar called the local corn crop a “disaster,” estimating it would yield 0-20 bushels per acre. This is the worst year he has seen since Ottawa Co-op purchased the South Lawrence Co-op elevator in 2001.
This year follows the worst Kansas crop in 29 years, with the state averaging 107 bushels of corn per acre in 2011, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Ross doesn’t plan on harvesting 20 percent of his crop. Instead, he will cut it for silage to feed his 600 cattle. He said he has been fortunate with them. He has only lost three to the heat.
Ross has it bad, and the rest of Kansas hasn’t fared much better.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared 82 Kansas counties federal disaster areas because of drought.
“Almost the entire state is seeing significant deterioration of corn and soy beans but also hay and pasture,” said Adrian Polanski, Kansas Farm Service Agency executive director and former Kansas ag secretary. “If it continues another couple of weeks of hot and dry weather, certainly the crops are going to continue to be damaged and have even greater yield loss.”
Polanski said the drought has affected about 150,000 Kansas farmers and land owners. Those in the disaster areas will qualify for emergency government loans.
Douglas County and Ross don’t qualify. He has given up on his corn crop. With crop insurance he may break even. Ross must now put his hope in his 2,200 acres of soybeans, also damaged by the drought. Ross said the recent rains helped the crop, but it needs more precipitation.
So Ross is left again, looking out his office window for rain.
“I’m an optimist,” he said. “I think about all farmers are. I keep saying it will come, it will come.”