Lack of precipitation increasing challenges for area farmers

By Chance Chamberlain

The forecasted heatwave and the threat of little rainfall creates risks for area farmers as crops enter the vital stages of their life cycle. Ron Highley, branch manager of the Cass County USDA Rural Development office said the forecasted extreme heat for the coming weeks could be detrimental to crop yields this harvest season.

“If we miss any more rainfall this year and get the high heat that is expected, it will really hurt the farmers. We are at a critical time with corn pollination so we really can’t afford to miss any potential rainfall. Soybeans on the other hand, can last a little longer, but the heat and lack of rain could still be detrimental to a crop’s health,” he said. As of June 30, Cass County was slightly below normal in rainfall.

“We are a little below average for rainfall this year, but we are still in a good place,” Highley said. “Right now, we aren’t in too bad of shape. Pastures are in decent shape, corn is doing well and soybeans are fair. The rain we got around the fourth put us in better shape for at least another week too, but we can’t afford to miss any more rainfall.”

Highley said he has been checking the U.S. Drought Monitor regularly to track a dry spell that has been moving east from Kansas.

“The drought out in Western Kansas has been there since winter and it has crept this way slowly, so that is what I have been checking lately to make sure that our farmers remain in good shape,” he said.

The forecasted heatwave has temperatures in the triple digits for several days in the near future. While the temperatures will be hot, they probably won’t approach record temps for the area. Two of the hottest recorded days in Cass County history came in July 1954. The second hottest day in Cass County history is July 13, 1954, at 112 degrees with both July 14 and July 18 of the same year in third place at 111 degrees. The only day that is hotter according to the National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill, is Aug. 14, 1936, in the middle of the Dust Bowl. The temperature on that day was 113 degrees.

Highley said, “At that temperature, the highest impact would probably be on livestock and the corn crop depending on the pollination stage that the corn was in. Temperatures that hot could absolutely ruin a corn crop because it could actually burn the pollen, meaning that the corn wouldn’t pollinate.

“Back then, it would have been close to impossible to keep your crop alive because of how they had to overwork the land to keep weeds out with the added high temperatures. That and the fact that they didn’t have irrigators in those days,” he said. “Nowadays, there are hybrid crops that could take the heat a lot better. Farmers now have irrigators to keep water on their crops and they can simply spray their crops with chemicals to get rid of weeds, so the threat of over working the field is much lower.”

Highley said, “Livestock is difficult too. Famers usually make sure that there are shaded areas and ponds to cool their animals off. The animals may become stressed, but the heat itself won’t kill them around here.”

Highley said that the biggest factor of crop health during a heatwave is what the temperatures do at night.

“For corn to really thrive, the temperature really needs to be less than 95 degrees and the night temperature needs to be around 70 degrees. This helps the corn cool in the evening so it doesn’t overheat during the day,” he said. “The problem when you get into the hundreds is that the night temperature usually stays in the 80s which doesn’t give the corn a chance to cool down and it is really the same for livestock. The threat of even three to four days of extreme heat is scary.”

Farming conditions are considered good with mild temperatures in the 75- to 85-degree range and moderate rainfall amounting to 15 inches or more during the growing season.

Highley said, “Increased rainfall keeps farmers out of the field. If you look at the month of May last year, we endured record rainfall for the month which left farmers with flooded property and little yield.

“The conditions are rarely perfect for farming. The weather is either too hot and it kills crops and stresses out livestock, or it’s too wet and causes flooding that keeps farmers out of the fields,” he said.