Several recent rainstorms have improved drought conditions in most of northwest Ohio, but for this year's corn crop the rain came too late to make much of a difference.
"The drought is having a serious impact, even though things look green out here. Our corn yields will be less than half of what they normally are," said Roy Norman, Ohio Farm Bureau organization director for Fulton, Henry, Defiance, and Williams counties.
Mr. Norman said many farmers in the counties he covers are anticipating losing 50 to 70 percent of their normal corn crop. In general, farms to the east are faring better, while farms to the west are doing worse.
The federal government acknowledged the dire situation in Ohio this week as the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared nine counties as natural disaster areas because of the drought.
Included among them were Defiance, Fulton, Henry, Paulding, Putnam, and Van Wert counties. The other three counties in Ohio named primary disaster areas are Butler, Hamilton, and Preble. Williams County was declared a disaster area last week. Fourteen other counties, including Allen, Hancock, Lucas, and Wood have been named contiguous disaster counties.
The declaration allows eligible farmers to take out emergency loans at low interest rates.
"If a producer is facing financial difficulty, the banker, for example, won't lend," said Steve Maurer, Ohio executive director for the Farm Service Agency. "Then we can play a role, charging a lower interest rate and helping people get through a tough time."
Mr. Maurer said it's too early to say how many farmers will take advantage of the loans, but he expects the number of those eligible to increase significantly in coming days.
"Within days there will probably be many more counties added to that list that came out [Wednesday]," he said. "I expect most of Ohio to be declared."
Other emergency assistance programs, such as Farm Service Agency disaster assistance programs, have historically used disaster designations as an eligibility requirement trigger.
But while low-interest loans can help, they can't do a thing to fix the root of the problem, Mr. Norman said.
"In the large scheme of things," he said, "you can't replace that crop out there you lost."
The most recent update of the U.S. Drought Monitor, released Tuesday, actually shows improvement in northwest Ohio. Most of the region — including all of Defiance, Henry, Fulton, and Paulding counties — went from severe drought to moderate drought. The small pocket of extreme drought in Williams County was reduced to moderate or severe.
It's too late for rains to improve the corn crop, but the additional moisture is at least preventing fields from getting worse.
"I think we have stabilized," said Chet Phillips, general manager of Gerald Grain Center Inc. in Napoleon. "We may be improving the [soy]beans. But we've stabilized the corn. We've stopped the bleeding."
Wauseon-area resident Beverly Ayers, who along with her husband grows corn, soybeans, and wheat, has counted 3.2 inches of rain since Aug. 5.
"It's very good rain. This is what we should have been having all along," she said.
Still, she's not sure what they'll have come harvest time. Right now they're figuring about half their soybean crop will be lost, and maybe 75 percent of the corn crop.
Mr. Phillips said he expects to see a market area average of 100 to 105 bushels of corn per acre. Often, local yields average 150 to 160 bushels per acre, he said. The agriculture department last week cut U.S. overall yield projections to 123.4 bushels per acre. Still, with record planting this year, the crop is expected to be a solid one of 10.8 billion bushels — which the agency points out is well above the 4.9 billion bushels produced in 1988, the drought to which this year's has often been compared.
The rain does seem to have helped perk up the soybean crop.
"The beans look good," Mr. Phillips said. "We don't know how much damage or how many pods we lost during that dry spell, but they've certainly put on more pods. We've got high hopes for them."
If conditions hold, the soybean crop may net a near-normal yield in many northwest Ohio fields. That could prove many farmers' saving grace.
"About half of them at least have insurance," Mr. Phillips said. "Beans I think are going to be good, and I think [farmers] realize beans are going to take care of them. I think we can be thankful for that. I think they know they'll get by. Last year was a good year. In a way, it'll average out."
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6134.
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