Kernel of truth


HANCOCK COUNTY — After last year’s record-breaking crop harvests across the state, many Hancock County farmers are bracing for yields they expect to pale in comparison.

The relentless rainfall, about 7 inches above average, that drenched local fields in June and July took a toll on corn and soybean production, Hancock County’s top crops; and with only a couple of weeks left to harvest, local farmers say they expect production to fall below average.

Across the county, corn and soybean fields make up 94 percent of the approximately 160,000 acres used for crop farming, according to Census data.

Bruce Beeker, who farms roughly 2,000 acres in the southwest corner of the county, said he was pleasantly surprised by how well his soybean fields fared after portions were flooded for weeks after summer rain.

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But his cornfields, which are about half harvested, weren’t so fortunate, he said.

“There are a lot of places that got flooded out early on where, even if there’s a stalk left there, it’s stunted and doesn’t have much of an ear on it,” Beeker said.

Still, he is optimistic. At one point this summer, he feared he’d lose most of his crops to the storms that left standing water in his fields for days.

“It’s turning out a bit better than what we all expected,” Beeker said. “We didn’t know if we were even gonna have anything to harvest at one point.”

Chris Cherry, who farms more than 3,000 acres of corn and soybeans, faces a similar forecast for his corn.

His soybean fields surprised him, he said, and he expects those yields to be normal or slightly above average. But he estimates he lost about 10 percent of total corn yield from excessive summer rain, which was followed by a couple of weeks of abnormally dry conditions.

“When you go from one extreme to the other like that, it just puts the corn under so much stress,” Cherry said, adding he can’t recall a single year in recent memory with similar weather conditions.

That drop in production will mean a loss in revenue, Cherry said, but he won’t know totals until combines have made their way through all the fields by the end of the month.

According to U.S. climate data, a total of 16.5 inches of rain fell in Greenfield in June and July, a sharp increase from the 9.8-inch historical average for those months.

Roy Ballard, agriculture resources educator with the local Purdue Extension office, said the amount of rain that fell throughout the county in those summer months left little time for farmers to react.

“If the fields get flooded early on after everything’s planted, there’s still time for the farmers to replant and start over fresh,” Ballard said.

But once crops have matured — as they do in the summer months — that’s no longer an option, he said.

And even after the pools of water drowning the crops recede, Ballard said, the roots remain saturated, which can cause nutrient deficiency.

Farmers can try to get around that by adding supplemental nutrients to crops, but once the plants grow large, it’s risky to maneuver machinery around fields to apply the fertilizer, he said.

Statewide, Hancock County farms were spared from some of the worst weather, said Chris Hurt, agricultural economist at Purdue University.

The northwestern part of the state was hit hardest, and the west-central region was also impacted significantly, he said, adding the extent of the damage won’t be known until yield totals are tallied at the end of the year.

According to projections supplied by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, statewide averages for both corn and soybeans will be down about 4 percent, Hurt said. But those numbers can vary significantly based on location and how much low-lying land farmers have crops planted in, he said.

“Averages, many times, don’t tell the whole story,” Hurt said. “There may be some people who got 5 inches of rain on their land, but the area average was only 2. We would expect quite a bit of volatility.”

Despite his expectation that crop totals won’t be what he had hoped for, Cherry said harvest season remains one of the most gratifying times of his year.

“You get to pull in what you’ve worked all spring and summer to plant,” he said. “This is most farmers’ favorite time of the year.”