During the month of June, around the time corn crops should be pollinating, Clark County received less than one inch of rain. That, combined with record breaking temperatures, meant the crop simply missed the window of opportunity for pollination. Even if the county receives regular rain showers throughout the rest of the summer, the crop is unlikely to recover. According to the Kentucky Field Office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service, 72 percent of Kentucky’s corn crop was rated poor or very poor.
July has already surpassed June totals, with 3 1/2 inches of rain recorded so far, including 1/2-inch Wednesday evening, according to the Kentucky Mesonet weather tracking service. Temperatures have not reached the 100-degree mark in more than a week. According to the National Weather Service, there is a 60 percent chance of precipitation today, and a 60 percent chance of precipitation Friday, with high temperatures in the 80s both days.
Former Clark County Extension Agent for Agriculture Frank Hicks said Clark County farmers can deal with hot, dry conditions, but it is rare to see them so early in the season.
“The unusual thing about this wasn’t that it was unusually hot and dry, but it was unusually hot and dry earlier than we’re used to for our climate,”¿Hicks said.
For other crops, there is still a chance for recovery. According to Hicks, soybeans tend to be more drought tolerant than corn, and farmers like LeMaster are hoping to recover some of their losses through a good soybean crop.
“The soybeans, they’re a little more forgiving than the corn is. Most of them still have a chance to make a crop. It probably won’t be the crop it would have been if we’d had a little more timely rain,” HIcks said.
LeMaster said he remains positive about his chances for a high soybean yield, but it all depends on weather for the rest of the summer.
“It could rain today,” LeMaster said earlier this week, “but we need rain a month from now.”
Soybeans are usually harvested in mid-September.
“Right now, they look as good as any beans I’ve seen,” LeMaster said of his crop. “We’ve got to sustain it. They’ve got a potential to make some pretty good yields if they continue to get water.”
At the Clark County Southern States Co-op on Pendleton Street, Manager Randy Johnson said the weather is all local farmers are talking about.
“One rain is not gonna do it. You need showers all along,” Johnson said. “We’re accustomed to our dry spell in July and August.”
As a cattle farmer himself, Johnson is sympathetic to what customers are facing. Because of dry pastures, most cattle farmers are feeding their livestock hay that must last through the winter.
“It’s virtually impossible to make that hay last until April,”¿Johnson said.
LeMaster said he has been feeding his cattle hay for the past two weeks.
The grass available in pastures now offers cattle little in the way of nutrition, HIcks said.
“It still takes it a while for it to recover and get nutritious food growing out there,” Hicks said.
If rain remains scattered for the next two months, farmers are hopeful cattle can return to normal grazing habits.
“If we have rain, we’ll be OK on pasture,” LeMaster said.
State Agriculture Commissioner James Comer released a statement warning farmers against chopping drought-stricken corn into silage because of high levels of nitrogen.
“Feeding silage can help livestock producers who need to feed their animals because their pastures are suffering from the dry weather,” Comer said in a press release. “But producers should be careful about feeding corn silage until they have determined that the nitrogen content is at an acceptable level.”
Johnson said Southern States employees are rallying to support the local agricultural community — and praying for rain.
“You’re part of this crop with them. This is a co-op owned by local farmers, so everybody’s in it together,” Johnson said.
Contact Rachel Parsons Gilliam at firstname.lastname@example.org.