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Shelby County's summer crops aren’t so hot

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Corn especially struggling, but there is good news – prices are rising high

By Ryan Conley

Farmers in Shelby County are asking for help getting their crops in this year – and it’s not just for people with strong backs either.

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“If you know any rain dances…or go wash your car, or whatever,” said Leo Young, who operates a farm near Simpsonville. “I’m trying to stay upbeat, but we could use some rain.”

Recent scorching temperatures coupled with a dearth of moisture have combined to put the local growing season in possible peril.

“Abnormal is the new normal,” said Corinne Kephart, the county extension agent for Shelby County. “Here in Shelby County, and in Henry County, we are in a drought situation. We’re not as bad as folks to our east and north and west. But we are in a critical position.”

Warm temperatures in the spring led to an early planting season, which was good news for farmers. But the onslaught of continued heat – which included record-setting days of between 103 degrees and 105 degrees on June 28 through July 8 – has crippled crops such as corn.

“We are irrigating our sweet corn, but the field corn is at a real critical stage,” said Bill Gallrein, who operates Gallrein Farms on Vigo Road near Shelbyville. “It’s already tasseling, trying to pollinate. With the heat and dry weather, it is going to play havoc on the field. It is critical we get a rain in the next couple of weeks.”

A wicked thunderstorm broke the triple-digit heat wave on July 1, bringing with it about three-quarters of an inch of rain. But further moisture has since missed Shelby County for the most part, while soaking neighboring communities.

“Our corn is hurt, but how much I just can’t tell yet,” said Young, whose farm is located on Reed Road. “Water might help, but I don’t know.”

Other crops are fairing a little better. Gallrein, who also operates a popular food market at his farm, said he is irrigating many of his crops.

“Soybeans and the green bean crop are doing very well; we are just not going to get the yield with the heat,” he said. “It’s still hard to gauge some of these crops.”

Hay is also holding its own, Young said.

“Hay has been ahead of schedule; we had some warm days in March and April,” he said. “The pastures still have grass, but it is going quick.”

 

Prices are rising

One potential boon byproduct of the tough growing season is that those who are fortunate to get their crops to market should see higher-than-average prices. Soybeans on Monday for the first time ever topped $16 a bushel. Corn prices have been dancing above the $7 per-bushel range of late, up sharply from the $5 range seen as recently as early June.

Young agreed that corn could be a good cash crop, but he said current growing conditions are the worst he has seen since 1983.

“It rained up to the Fourth of July, but it never rained again, and it was hot like this,” said Young, who began farming in 1974. “Corn was only making twenty-five to thirty bushels an acre. It was the worst year for me.”

It indeed was particularly brutal for corn growers across the nation in 1983. But the price of corn skyrocketed in August of that year to a bushel-price of $3.88 – a figure, when adjusted for inflation, tops the past 40 years at $8.95.

Further, when adjusted for inflation, 16 of the top 20 bushel prices for corn in the past 40 years occurred in 1983-84. The other four came last year, when demand was spurred in part on the extension of ethanol tax breaks. Last April, corn hit an all-time monthly closing high of $8.09 per bushel.

 

Hopeful forecast

The United States Department of Agriculture reported recently that farmers planted 96.4 million acres of corn this year – the most since 1937. But few could have predicted the drought conditions that have blistered most of the nation.

Young said he doesn’t watch the Weather Channel.

“If it rains, it rains,” he said. “If it rains soon, we’ll all forget about it for two weeks.”

There is a 50 percent chance of rain for each of the next three days, according to weather.com. High temperatures will range from the upper-70s to the mid-80s.