Drought hammers crops

By Aaron Wiens

A ‘double whammy’ of bad luck is taking hold of the region’s farmers who have already seen their crop wither away in the drought of 2005.

The corn crop harvest, which may be as much as 50 percent lower than average, is worsened by the fact the drought affecting Illinois farmers is so acutely localized.

“The drought is centered in Illinois with only a small amount of its effect on states like Missouri and Iowa,” said state climatologist Jim Angel.

This poses a problem for farmers when they try to sell their poor yields in a saturated grain market, Unlike the 1988 drought, where most of the Midwest was affected, prices are not rising to coincide with lower supplies in Illinois.

“We call it the double whammy effect,” said DeKalb County farmer Paul Rasmussen.

The DeKalb County Farm Bureau estimates the county may lose $110 million because of the extremely dry summer, said Farm Bureau Manager Doug Dashner.

“Right now the corn crop is fairly well-determined,” Dashner said. “Whatever’s out there is all we’re going to get.”

“The rain we get now stops the plant from cannibalizing itself which means the yield does not go down, but it cannot get any higher,” Rasmussen said.

The economic impacts of smaller harvests are far reaching.

Low-yield harvests have an impact on the economy far beyond the lone farmer, Dashner said. Poor harvest levels affect grain elevator operators and other temporary employees as well.

“The typical commercial farm is going to see their revenue down by about $185,000 this summer,” Dashner said.

“People think that droughts are just a problem for farmers, but when there is a bad harvest it effects everyone,” Rasmussen said.

Illinois corn yield is expected to drop by at least 30 percentage points. By Dashner’s estimate, which could equate to at least $66 million in losses.

The average yield for corn is 160 bushels an acre, but this year most farmers in the region expect a yield of only 100 bushels, Dashner said.

Some farmers consider themselves lucky just to have any crop at all.

“I know a few farmers who do not think they have anything – they cannot even harvest,” Rasmussen said.

Farmers can only hope that next year is more like last year when there was a record harvest instead of a record drought.

“There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Angel said. “It is just a really long tunnel and the light is pretty small.”