Farmers here crying the no-rain blues

Published 3:08 pm Thursday, July 12, 2007

By By MARCIA STEFFENS / Niles Daily Star
NILES – You won't find any farmers here singing "rain, rain go away."
Disappointment followed Tuesday after predicted rain turned out to be a mere sprinkle and in some places even less.
Some crops like corn are at a critical stage right now, according to area farmers.
"It is getting to the point of tasseling. If damaged, there is no chance to recover. It is not doing real well," said Gail Peterson of Reum Street and M-60 in Niles.
"Corn can use a quarter inch of rain a day. Even an inch would only last a few days," he said. "Rain would make a big difference, but there is a point where it can't help."
Peterson has about 300 acres of non-irrigated corn and 160 acres of soy beans.
"Soy beans are lower and still have to flower. They have a bit more chance to come back," he added.
Peterson is also worried about his pastures not growing back. "The livestock pasture the same field three or four times a year," he explained.
Pastures which should be used to grow hay for winter, are needed now instead.
In the fall they will need to buy corn husks from seed corn plants to feed the livestock, he added.
Merrill Clark of Roseland Organic Farms on M-60 questions weather forecasters, as she too was disappointed in the very brief rain. The hot days and lack of rain are not what she remembers, growing up on a small farm in Illinois.
She added their business is "mostly affected by the pastures where they raise cattle" for their organic beef. They have had to open up pastures they were saving for later on in the season.
"It was bone dry in one and we opened the gate to another," she said. "We are hoping they won't be totally used up."
They also are feeding the livestock hay which was to be used this winter, along with being unable to grow more. This winter they "might need to butcher a few more animals," she said.
"Nothing is where it should be. We are feeding hay now we normally have for the winter," her son Lincoln Clark said.
"Pastures aren't supplying food. That's the worry. Everything is very dry," he said.
"There's still time, if rain begins again. Corn goes into dormancy and if it rains again, it takes care of itself," he explained, but added, "eventually it will die not produceing anything."
"We had an itty bitty rain Tuesday. It needs to come soon," he added.
"Grain is hurting pretty bad," added David Grabemeyer of Silver Creek.
"Corn and soybeans are the big ones. There are lighter soils in this part of the county and they can't stand to be dry," he said.
He has recorded a mere two 10ths of an inch of rain since June 4.
"Most corn is going through the stage which determines the yield. Now that we missed last night's rain (Tuesday) I don't think there will be much yield.
"This was the one year out of 30 I have farmed to take advantage of the good price," he explained with bio-fuels becoming popular.
Even the other half of his corn which he irrigates won't be bringing in extra money.
"With fuel prices the way they are, a lot of the money goes into fuel costs. I hope to get back enough profit, but there is no way with fertilizer, seed, fuel and everything. We don't have the yield and still have the expenses. It is a double whammy," he said.
"Most people are sympathetic but there is not much they can do about it."
Traveling in the southern part of the state, he said he has seen the moderate drought which has been spoken about and some extreme areas.
His fruit will also see the effects of the hot weather without rain.
"None of the fruit size – apples, peaches and grapes – are near normal size." he said.
The smaller fruit, if it doesn't reach the two and a half inch size, will go to juice, which he said, "is one third the price. It is a drastic change in price.
"It is all determined by the weather – by rain."
The "benchmark" is the historical poor yield year of 1988, he said. This year "could be worse, if nothing happens shortly. Twenty years ago though, the drought was more widespread in the mid-west.
"Chicago has had a number of rains and in the midwest some are getting beautiful crops. The price is going up. In '88, everybody was in the same boat. The hardest part this year is in Michigan," he said.
"There is no rhyme or reason. We try to blame it on Lake Michigan, but I don't know for sure."
Grabemeyer worries about the future of small farms. Many neighbors and relatives in the area have sold out to larger farmers, or to have the land divided into homes.
"It is the sign of the times. I looked around and farm after farm have gotten sucked up," he said.
When the young people are looking for jobs they can get better pay. In farming there is no guarantee whatsoever.