Heat, drought wither local corn cropPublished 6:44pm Tuesday, July 24, 2012
As the sun and heat continue, local farmers are expecting big crop losses come harvest time, especially from corn yields.
A dire disaster that is affecting nearly half of the United States, southwest Michigan farmers are expecting the worst and hoping for the best as harvest season nears. Some farms have lost nearly all of their corn crop, while others have struggled with high and unexpected irrigation costs. According to the Michigan office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Cass County is classified as a contiguous disaster area, a designation that could change before harvest begins.
“What that means is that the county is next to a primary disaster county and has a higher risk of becoming primary designation,” Christine White, state executive director for Michigan’s USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA), said. “Many farmers will have to look into the option of low-interest loans because of their losses due to the drought.”
In order for Cass County to be designated as a primary disaster area, White said her office has to look at two factors: the National Federal Drought Monitor and if 30 percent or more of the overall crop will be lost.
“We haven’t reached that point yet,” White said. “But it’s a very bad time for farmers with the loss of the fruit crop earlier this year and then a dry, hot summer.”
For local farmers, dealing with little to no rain and electricity costs to run irrigation systems makes the outlook of harvest look grim.
““I’m expecting reasonable yields, but I’ve also had to run my irrigation more than the last three years combined,” Bob Blaske, owner of Blaske Farms in Dowagiac, said. “It’s going to be tough, but the little bit of rain has helped.”
With the recent, and brief, showers southwest Michigan has received, Blaske and Chris Poehlman, owner of Poehlman Farms in Niles, said their soybean crops have seen a slight turn for the better.
“We have 1,700 acres total of farmland, but only 350 of those acres are irrigated,” Poehlman said.
Poehlman, who operates the family farm with his two sons, Greg and Kent, expects yields from his primary crops: soybeans, wheat, alfalfa and corn. While it’s still hard to determine how much loss the farm will suffer, Poehlman has a gut feeling about that.
“I can say we’ve definitely lost 40 percent of the corn yield for sure,” Poehlman said. “Unfortunately, it may be more like 60 percent.”
Niles farmer Eric Coles, who farms 1,000 acres at Coles Farms on Gumwood Street, said the price per bushel of corn and soybeans, his two main yields, have soared to record numbers.
“When I checked, corn was $7.50 per bushel and soybeans was about $16 per bushel,” Coles said.
Blaske said that, though this year is tough, he’s keeping a watchful eye on next year’s crop.
“I’m optimistic,” Blaske said. “It’s hard to tell sometimes, but these type of years come around every so often.”
While harvest season is still a little more than a month off, Poehlman said it’s a waiting game until September and October.
“You wonder if it’s good to spend $20,000 on something that may or may not help in the long run depending on the weather,” Poehlman said. “We’ll see whether it’s paid off or not.”