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Farmers brace for poor yield as dry weather hurts crops

Staff writer

Farming is a business where an inch can make a substantial difference in production — between making a profit, breaking even, or losing money.

“It would be tremendous if we would catch an inch of rain in the next week,” Hillsboro farmer Steve Bartel said May 5. “If it were to rain, it would be better than last year.”

With another “gutter rain” — as Hillsboro Cooperative Grain and Supply Manager Lyman Adams called rains in April that were too small to quench the thirst of crops — on May 10 and a few sprinkles on May 11, Bartel’s prayers have yet to be answered.

At the beginning of spring the potential for an abundant grain bushel per acre yield was high.

“We were looking at 60 bushels an acre,” Adams said. “Now it’s getting down to 30 bushels an acre. One guy said he’s losing a bushel an acre a day.”

While wheat crops around the county are being severely affected by dry conditions, Bartel said his alfalfa is down a third. His corn crop is springing up, but without rain soon, it could be relatively fruitless.

“Some guy said he has cracks 18 inches deep in his field,” Adams said.

“Our ponds are dry,” Bartel said.

The amount of rain farmers have received in Marion County varies depending on the farm’s location within the 953 square miles inside the county.

John Thole owns a farm east of Marion. His crops are dry, but not in dire need of water as those in Hillsboro.

“We’re better but that doesn’t mean we’ll do well,” Thole said.

Thole said his land has received different amounts of moisture this season. A mile apart, one piece of his field will be bone dry and the other will have received a quality rainfall.

“It’s erratic,” Thole said.

While farms around Hillsboro and the western portion of Marion County are dry, the Lincolnville area has received plenty of rain, Cooperative employee Brian Nickel said.

Although farmers knew a dry growing season might have been a possibility, Adams said there were no measures Marion County farmers could have taken to prevent this situation. With strong growing conditions the previous three springs as examples, Marion County has never needed irrigation.

“We rely on Mother Nature,” Adams said.

And, as farmers have dealt with for a century, the global market for grain is not forgiving.

“The biggest adjustment is we’re not in a Kansas market, we’re in a global market,” Adams said.

Prospects look bleak but the ground could be drier.

“If you get clear down to Oklahoma, it’s the poorest wheat I’ve ever seen,” Thole said.

Or the ground could be drenched.

“I wouldn’t want to be in Missouri,” Bartel said. “There’s nothing they can do with that.”

Last modified May 19, 2011

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