Drought drives Southland farmers’ fears
By Susan DeMar Lafferty email@example.com June 13, 2012 11:08PM
Lack of rain this spring has left this Mokena soybean dry. | Larry Ruehl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 15, 2012 3:29PM
If rain doesn’t fall soon, Southland farmers may be kissing their corn crops goodbye.
The unusually dry start to June — one of the least rainy on record — has left crops withering in parched fields, a situation fast approaching the critical stage for increasingly anxious farmers.
“You can see there’s a lot of concern in their eyes,” Mark Schneidewind, manager of the Will County Farm Bureau, said Wednesday. “If we don’t get rain this week, it could be a very lean year for farmers.”
Standing in his soybean field Wednesday afternoon, Manhattan farmer Dave Kestel saw some wilted plants.
“It’s all in Mother Nature’s hands,” he said. “I’m pretty optimistic, but it is bad right now. There are cracks in the soil, which can damage the roots.
“There’s not a lot of damage yet, but if we go another week and it gets hotter, that will definitely do some damage. I would love to have it pouring down rain right now.”
There has been less than 1 inch of rain in the past six weeks, and the lack of winter snow also contributed to the dry conditions. Young corn plants in particular are not big or strong enough to survive such conditions for long, farmers said.
According to the National Weather Service, Midway Airport has seen .03 inches of rain so far this month, compared to an average of 1.75 inches. Except for a slight chance of rain Monday, there is no significant precipitation in the forecast for the next seven days, either.
“I’m trying not to worry, but Mother Nature is beating me up left and right,” said Jeff Haas, a Lockport/Homer Glen farmer. “Every day that goes by is more money out of pocket.”
Ninety percent of crops in Will County are either corn or soybeans, Schneidewind said. With corn, the leaves are starting to curl in, so the plants resemble a pineapple plant more than a cornstalk.
Soybeans need rain to start maturing to the pollination stage. They are having a hard time pushing out of the dry ground, and some plants are starting to die off in some areas, he said.
At the Chicago futures markets, the drought has been the cause of higher prices for incoming crops. Corn prices have rallied about 8 percent this month at the Chicago Board of Trade after falling steeply, about 12 percent, during the second half of May.
When poor growing weather cuts into expected yields, prices rise because there is less crop to meet demand. But drought is a more immediate concern for farmers than for grocery shoppers, as major food companies long ago locked in prices.
Steve Georgy, senior manager at the McHenry-based trading firm Allendale Inc., said the lack of rain has moved to the top of the market’s concerns.
“It seems like some relief is on the way for portions of the Corn Belt, but people are in a ‘show me the rain’ mode,” he said.
A weekly U.S. Department of Agriculture survey of crop conditions has tracked the drought’s effects. In a report issued Monday, it said 66 percent of the nation’s corn crop was in good to excellent condition, down from 72 percent a week earlier.
Georgy said the crop is in worse shape than it was at this time last year.
At the Board of Trade on Wednesday, the contract for July corn rose 62/5 cents to $5.902/5. July soybeans, less affected by the current weather because the crop was planted later, fell 29 cents Wednesday to close at $14.06.
The sunny weather isn’t even good for car washes. Joseph Guidry, manager at Bucktown Hand Car Wash in Chicago, said sustained sunny weather often makes customers complacent about a little dust on their cars.
“When it rains at night and the car gets spotty and it looks like a mess, then people are going to come in and get it washed,” Guidry said.
But for hardware businesses, the dry weather is drawing in customers who want to keep their lawns alive.
“There has been a higher demand for watering products, such as hoses and sprinklers,” said David Stevenson, a manager at Lowe’s Home Improvement in Chicago.
Contributing: Tony Graf, David Roeder, Emily Morris