Archive for Wednesday, July 17, 2002

County’s corn crop takes a beating

July 17, 2002

It's the time of year corn plants sport tassels, pollinate and begin to fill their ears with juicy kernels.

But all of that takes moisture. And in Leavenworth County, moisture hasn't been part of the picture this summer.

According to Abel, Leavenworth County farmers this year planted:

8,000 to 10,000 acres in wheat.

About 20,000 acres in corn.

40,000 to 50,000 acres in soybeans.

"Even though we've had some spotty rains around the county, they've been very isolated, and our spring-planted crops are starting to be the worse for wear now," said Rick Abel, executive director of the Farm Service Agency in Leavenworth and Atchison counties.

Last week's cooler temperatures provided a bit of a respite for the corn and soybean crops. But the hot weather is back. And without rain, the county's corn crop lives in peril.

"We really need some moisture to produce a crop," Abel said.

Mike McGraw, who farms land from the Douglas County line to near Springdale, echoed Abel's concern.

"We need a gentle rain," McGraw said. "These little pop-up showers don't help. They keep talking rain. It doesn't come. That's the way July is, and it's tough to get rain in July."

At McGraw's home north of Tonganoxie, he tracks rainfall. He recites the amounts by memory: 0.9 of an inch in June and 0.5 of an inch in July.

"Last year, we had a record flood on Stranger Creek," McGraw said. "It was tough here last year. And this year, we're going to burn up."

While it's possible the soybean crop could pull out, McGraw is wondering whether to continue farming. The 53-year-old lifetime farmer is thinking it might be time for a change. Weather plays a role, as do crop prices.

"This year has put me to the edge," McGraw said. "We can't continue farming this way. We have to rely on a government paycheck. That's when it's sad. It makes me want to puke. I'm getting tired of it."

As Leavenworth County becomes more of a suburban county and land prices are driven up, thoughts of a new life come more frequent.

"I'm at the point now that I'm thinking why am I doing this when I could get a decent price for some of the land I've got," McGraw said. "Five or six years ago, I'd never thought of that because farming's been my way of life, all my life."

And so with the corn harvest six or seven weeks away, McGraw is hoping his soybeans can pull through.

"If we get a break in the weather, the beans could be in a real good shape," he said. "The beans are all right yet, but they can't go on forever either."

Abel said he thinks the soybean crop can hang on without rain for another 10 days to two weeks.

"The cool weather helped," he said. "It bought a few days, if anything."

The county's milo crop a more drought-tolerant plant even is showing signs of stress, Abel said.

Although farmers are concerned about the spring-planted crops, the county's wheat harvest was strong, and the hay looked good.

But pastures are deteriorating, he said.

"It's at 75 percent of normal capacity," Abel said. "It's going down as we speak because it needs moisture badly, too."

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