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Severe drought shriveling corn for some western Ky. farmers

The side of one of the trucks on Folz Farms.
Liam Niemeyer
Folz Farms in Christian County, Kentucky

Some farmers in far western Kentucky are continuing to deal with a drought that could ruin some corn yields later in the year.

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows much of the region from Fulton County to Christian County in a severe drought that’s only worsened throughout this summer. University of Kentucky Extension Professor Chad Lee – who specializes in studying corn, soybeans and small grains – said how fortunate some farmers have been depends on how much rainfall their county has had.

“There are some fields where pollination looks great and corn is doing pretty good. There are some fields where pollination is absolutely terrible. We'll probably have 25% yield in some of those fields,” Lee said.

Lee said corn needs extra water during pollination. The expected overall corn yield across western Kentucky is still hard to discern, he said, as it’s not yet clear how much corn has been impacted by the ongoing drought. A few western Kentucky counties have received plenty of rain, lifting the drought, while other counties have only seen the drought worsen. According to Kentucky Mesonet, Hopkins County has received 9.6 inches of rain in the past 21 days and Christian County has received 2.9 inches of rain.

Christian County farmer Tom Folz grows thousands of acres of corn and soybeans, and he believes his crops are being hit harder compared to another significant drought in 2012.

“I don't think we'll have much of a yield. I mean, it's pretty nasty looking,” Folz said. “All our corn’s shriveled up, you know, trying to hold in as much moisture as it can.”

Folz said the profits of several years of good harvests along with crop insurance should provide a financial cushion for him to weather the dry conditions this year. Yet other farmers are worried about the escalating prices of fertilizers, seeds and more this year, combined with the costly hit of the drought, could put some farmers in a financially precarious position.

“Even if they've got their finances in order, our [production costs] took such drastic rises this year that most of us producers kind of had our hands tied,” said Phillip Bean, who grows corn, wheat and soybeans in Carlisle County.

Bean said he’s been “blessed” for some of the rainfall his crops have received compared to other farmers in his area, though he’s hoping for more rain soon. The National Weather Service forecasts a chance of thunderstorms and rain through the upcoming week.

“With these temperatures that we're having right now … that is really taking the moisture out of the ground,” he said. “Rain here or better than average rain will be very welcome.”

According to the latest federal crop progress report on July 18, the condition of 28% of planted Kentucky corn is classified as either “poor” or “very poor.” 32% of planted soybeans in the state are “poor” or “very poor.”

"Liam Niemeyer is a reporter for the Ohio Valley Resource covering agriculture and infrastructure in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia and also serves Assistant News Director at WKMS. He has reported for public radio stations across the country from Appalachia to Alaska, most recently as a reporter for WOUB Public Media in Athens, Ohio. He is a recent alumnus of Ohio University and enjoys playing tenor saxophone in various jazz groups."
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