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Farmers optimistic about crops after 2012 drought

Saturday, July 13, 2013 - 12:01 am

TERRE HAUTE – The week of June 24, Marty Evans measured more than 11 inches of rain on land he farms in southern Vigo and Clay counties – including 8 inches measured in just one day.

But he's not complaining, especially when he looks back at last year's drought. So far this year, his farmland has drained pretty well and he's optimistic about his corn, soybean and wheat crops.

He anticipates yields will be above average.

“I would say this year is completely the opposite of the 2012 crop year,” when a prolonged drought and intense heat brought with it “a lot of losses,” he said.

That's not to say Evans wouldn't like to see more sunshine. “We're a little too wet right now,” he said last week. “We need sunshine and dry weather to keep the crops good.”

Evans has a 4,500-acre family farm, Be-N-Ag, in southern Vigo and Clay counties.

If the soggy weather pattern and heavy rains continue for a long period, “We'd probably lose some potential crop,” he said.

With too much moisture, the ground becomes saturated and plants can't get oxygen at their roots.

“We did have to replant about 140 acres” of corn earlier in the season because of excessive moisture, he said.

Also, soybeans have started to turn yellow, the result of too much moisture.

Last year in June, Vigo County recorded 0.23 inches of rain, more than 4 inches below normal. In the last half of the month, temperatures frequently hit the 90s – reaching 106 degrees on two days, according to National Weather Service data.

Last month, the county had 8.79 inches on average, more than 4 inches higher than normal, according to the National Weather Service. The average temperature was 72.2, slightly below normal.

Statewide, Indiana has had 26.25 inches of rain on average in the first six months of the year, said Ken Scheeringa, associate state climatologist with Purdue University.

That's 5.6 inches more than the average, which is 20.65 inches. “That's 30 percent higher than a normal year,” he said.

Last year, it was in “just the opposite direction,” Scheeringa said. In the first six months of 2012, the state average was 14.48 inches of rain, or 6.17 inches less than normal. “That's about 70 percent of normal,” he said.

Wabash Valley farmers spent last summer “on edge” about drought and high temperatures, said Jim Luzar, of the Vigo County Purdue Extension office.

It's a different picture this time around. Rainfall has been variable across the Wabash Valley to the extent that some farmers wouldn't mind having a little more rain, while a few farmers in isolated areas have likened it to the 2008 flood, Luzar said.

There are pockets, especially in southern Vigo and northern Sullivan counties, that have seen water damage to crops, he said.

But Luzar said that, at his farm in Putnam County, “Corn looks really good.”

Wabash Valley farmers could see varied growing conditions. “There is going to be a lot of variability in plant health and progress based on planting dates, rainfall accrued and soil types,” Luzar said.

Fred Wilson, who farms in southern Vigo County — about two-thirds of it riverbottom land — describes this year as “the polar opposite” of last year.

This year, “We didn't plant anything until May 15. We were done planting before then last year,” he said. Wilson, who grows corn and soybeans, has been thwarted in his planting effort by heavy, frequent rain and a swollen Wabash River. “We have about 300 acres we haven't planted yet,” he said.

Unless the Wabash River is down to around 7 or 8 feet, the moisture stays under the soil, preventing planting on the lower ground. On Thursday, the river stage was 9.68 feet and falling; flood stage is 14 feet.

Wilson tells friends, “I'd rather see it burn up than flood. With flooding, you're guaranteed nothing. With a drought, you have poor yields, but that's better than nothing.”

At this point, he expects to come out ahead of last year. On the higher ground, “Everything is great,” he said.

But if there should be a lot of rain from the north and the river stage rises, that will take a toll. With a 20-foot river, “Half of my farm will make nothing,” he said.

Gary Garzolini, who farms in Edgar County, Illinois, and northwestern Vigo County, said all the rain “slowed me down in getting my crops out. Normally, I would plant corn from April 15 to 25.” This year, he said, most of it was planted between May 17 and 23.

He had to replant about 25 acres of soybeans that didn't emerge after a heavy rain.

“There's been plenty of moisture. Right now, we need more sunshine and heat” to get crops matured and into production stage, Garzolini said.

Also, there's been a delay in harvesting winter wheat because of the rains. Fair weather conditions on Thursday and Friday gave him a window to make some progress, and he was hoping for a few more days of the same. “We're on a roll today,” he said Friday.