HANCOCK COUNTY — The growing season has gotten off to a good start for Jeniece Miller of Miller Produce in Rush County, who sells squash, tomatoes, cucumbers and a variety of other produce at the Farmers Market at the Fairgrounds.
In fact, it’s all she can do to keep up with her plants.
“Everything is really doing good,” Miller said Wednesday as she packed baskets of large yellow squash back into her truck as the market was shutting down for the day.
“Everything is putting a lot on,” she said of her plants. “I can’t keep up with it.”
A good part of Miller’s success is due to the kind temperatures and ample rain that came with June. Farmers and gardeners throughout the county are watching plants thrive: Corn in many places was well past “knee-high by the Fourth of July,” as the saying goes. Early-season garden crops have been plentiful, which bodes well for summer staples like tomatoes and sweet corn.
According to the National Weather Service, central Indiana’s rainfall was almost 3 inches above the average for June.
Weather service records show the area received 7.04 inches of rain last month, 2.79 inches more than the 4.25-inch monthly average.
It also was about a half-degree cooler than the 81.4-degree average high for the month, according to the government’s statistics.
However, Al Shipe, a hydrologist for the weather service in Indianapolis, said it’s hard to draw widespread conclusions about the June weather patterns, primarily because they were not widespread.
“It really depends on where you were,” Shipe said. “The rain events were never really that widespread.”
Though rainfall was up throughout the area, some pockets are doing better than others.
“The northern part of Hancock County was above normal rainfall last week, but Greenfield is a bit on the dry side,” he said.
Records show Greenfield is running about 1.8 inches off its quarterly rainfall average, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistics Service. However, the agency showed central Hancock County cooling four degrees off its annual average temperature of 75 degrees for the last week.
Bob Nielson, Purdue University professor of agronomy and extension corn specialist, said observations he made while driving to Southern Indiana Wednesday corroborated the weather service data.
Depending upon what field is being inspected, this year’s corn crop could range “from as bad as it can get to as good as it can get,” he said.
The wet planting season delayed many operations from getting their crop in, and once planted, some fields were deluged. The excessively wet or ponding fields damaged, stunted or outright killed some corn.
“It’s a mixed bag,” Nielsen said. “But all things considered, this year’s corn looks pretty good.”
Overall, 75 percent of the state’s corn crop is reported as good or excellent by the federal government for the week ending July 6. The reporting service listed only 6 percent of the state’s crop as very poor or poor. Hoosier soybeans are faring just about as well, with 71 percent of the crop rated as good to excellent for the first week of July.
“It doesn’t appear to be anything out of the ordinary,” Nielsen said of the current crop condition, which is a good thing given that the next two weeks or so will be critical to the fall yield.
Depending upon when the crop was planted and how it fared with the early-season rains, many rows are beginning to tassel, marking the beginning of the pollination stage.
Nielsen said conditions look favorable with sufficient moisture content in the fields and moderate temperatures.
“I think what we’re going to see over the next two weeks is that the overwhelming majority of the crop is going to get through this critical stage,” he said.
An early perception for a good harvest, however, can sometimes bring cloudy economic news in the agriculture sector.
Tuesday’s cash grain bids for corn in the area ranged from a high of $3.90 per bushel in Beech Grove to a low of $3.71 in Knightstown, well below the near-$5 break-even point farmers were claiming earlier this year prior to planting.
Christopher Hurt, Purdue University professor of agriculture economics, said the weather has been “close to ideal” for the upcoming pollination season. “You couldn’t write a better forecast for it,” he said.
That forecast, however, coupled with somewhat more corn and soybean inventory as of June 1, has prices dropping off the table.
Though outcomes are never certain in agriculture, indicators are currently leaning toward the potential for record national and state corn and soybean yields, Hurt said.
“It’s not a done deal yet, but this could be a tremendous record,” he said.
Still, even with record or near-record yields, farmers will not be able to produce enough corn and beans to counter the decreasing prices as expenses and early-season input costs remained flat over last year.
“The lower prices will offset the higher yields in terms of farm income,” Hurt said, predicting significantly less crop farm revenues.
As the state’s farmers ride good weather toward an uncertain future, local gardeners simply can’t get enough of what they’ve been getting.
“It’s been great for me,” said Andrea Smith, a longtime gardener who grows tomatoes at Greenfield Community Garden in Brandywine Park.
“We’ve had just enough rain right when we needed it, not too much, and the temperature has been warm enough to have things grow well, but not hot enough to cook them,” she said.
“It’s looking good so far.”
But as is widely known, Hoosier weather requires constant vigilance, and a bright and encouraging growing season so far does not necessarily indicate how things will be in coming weeks.
“If we don’t get rain and then get temperatures in the 80s for a while, Indiana can dry out pretty quickly,” Shipe said.