Drought’s effects provoke concern

By Lori Wilkosz

Farmers and consumers alike are concerned about the effects of last summer’s record-breaking drought and the resulting higher food prices, as well as the future of farmers’ crops as a new growing season approaches.

David Whitson, agriculture adviser for the DeKalb County Cooperative Extension Service, said the lack of precipitation this winter might be signaling another drought-stricken summer. The current precipitation level is higher than last summer’s level, but it is still 25 percent below the normal annual level. Whitson said the normal annual precipitation level is 38.16 inches, and the precipitation level for 1988 was 29.38 inches.

“We do have adequate moisture right now, but we still need more rain than average in March and April in order to have improved crops,” he said. “If we go into another year of major drought, it will definitely have an effect on finances for farmers and agriculture businesses.”

Farmers will have a lower income, making it difficult for them to buy equipment needed for farming. Agriculture businesses will suffer as a result, he said.

Consumers also are worried about the possibilities of another bad year for farmers because it would mean continued higher food prices. Food prices are still higher than average because of the drought, he said.

The largest increase in food prices has been vegetable crops damaged by the drought, which are non-storable and in short supply, he said. The prices of corn, soybean and wheat products have not been affected by the drought as much as other vegetable crops, he said.

Allen Staver, NIU professor of meteorology, said the warmer, drier summer of 1988 is a partial reason for this season’s below-average snowfall and warm temperatures.

A warmer-than-normal season with more precipitation than last summer is predicted for this summer, Staver said, adding that there have never been consecutive drought summers.

Whitson said the DeKalb County Cooperative Extension Service is holding its annual Winter Agronomy Day on February 15. The program will include specialists in areas such as water quality who will advise farmers about any anticipated crop production problems.