HANCOCK COUNTY, Ind. — Farmers have already been dealt a tough hand this season between spring weather impacts, steep input costs and rising prices of products like diesel fuel, but now they have one more thing to worry about.
The lack of rainfall combined with abnormally high temperatures is taking a toll quickly, causing conditions ideal for what’s known as a ‘flash drought.’ As FOX59 Chief Meteorologist Brian Wilkes explained, these conditions already appear to be underway in central Indiana.
The National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) said flash droughts happen more often than generally believed and can cause major agricultural losses, among other environmental impacts, which could be worse if not predicted or detected in a timely manner.
Although weather is one of the factors that plays a crucial role in growing operations, it’s also one of the few things that farmers have no control over.
“I think it’s something we always have on our mind, especially as we get into July and August,” said J.R. Roesner, a farmer from southwest Indiana who also serves as vice chair for the Indiana Corn Marketing Council.
“We are not immune from droughts, and we do see them. We have been a few years without what we would call a significant drought,” Roesner said.
In 2012, a flash drought over the central U.S. is said to have been the most wide-ranging drought since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. It caused a major economic blow to the agricultural industry, resulting in more than $34.5 billion in losses. According to the government’s U.S. Drought Monitor, the unique part of that, was how quickly the flash drought developed.
Many farmers not only remember it like it was yesterday, but they also remember the impacts it had on their own farm operations.
“It was definitely something you know I had not seen much in my life. Back when I was younger, growing up in the late 80s, in 1988 we had a drought. It was definitely concerning, but 2012 was by far much worse,” Roesner said.
“To see all of it worked that we put in and the money invested, and to see that taken away with dry weather, you know. Our yields were reduced to about 25% of what they normally were on a farm average. It was very concerning not only financially, but as farmers that grow food and fuel and feed for the world,” said Roesner.
Looking on the side of positivity, neither Roesner or Clinton County farmer, Mike Beard, who also serves on the Indiana Corn Marketing Council board, believe Hoosier farmers or consumers need to panic right now.
“I remember 2012. I don’t think we’re there yet,” said Beard, who also remembered the drought in the late 1980s as a major event impacting farmers.
“At the end of the day, at the end of the harvest year, if we don’t have crop to sell, we find it difficult to survive another year,” said Beard. “Our incomes, our sustainability is based on being able to buy crop, buy seed for the next year and buy input for the next year.”
Beard has been farming for 55 years and said in that time, he’s always wished for a dry spell to drive the roots deeper into the soil, allowing them to find moisture and nutrients, but this isn’t exactly what he meant when he asked for that.
“I’d like to have it rain here very soon because some of my crops because they’re very small need that moisture now,” said Beard. “We like to see crops grow fast enough to shade the roads. It keeps the moisture in the ground.”
The hot, dry temperatures sweeping over Indiana come at a time where farmers are already dealing with surging diesel fuel costs, higher prices for seeds, fertilizer, and chemicals, all the way to supply chain issues.
Adding insult to injury, on Wednesday, diesel fuel costs hit another record high in Indiana, peaking at $6.036 per gallon.
“The changes this season started probably last fall,” Beard said, talking about skyrocketing input costs.
“I think farmers as a whole have been pretty positive through this event. This is not the first time we’ve seen significant increase in pay costs, it’s just something we have to manage,” said Roesner. “We have to be efficient with what we have, we have to look at those opportunities to buy those inputs when they’re priced, you know, maybe a little better than what they have been.”
Spring weather also impacted planting for some Hoosier farmers.
“While some of us were dry, others were wet. Some of us were a little warmer and up north they were a lot cooler,” said Beard. “It made it a very difficult season and the season seem to start late.”
Beard said he wasn’t able to plant in April, and some farmers that did, faced challenges when heavy rainfall kept them from being in the fields until later on in May.
Right now, things don’t appear too dire according to the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service Great Lakes Region (USDA NASS). Regardless, farming weather conditions are worsening for some parts of the state.
A crop weather report, released on June 21, shows a hot, dry week left some fields in need of rain. It also said soil moisture levels decreased from the previous week, with 76 percent of topsoil moisture reported as adequate or surplus. That’s down from the week ending June 12, where topsoil levels were at 93 percent reported as adequate or surplus after ‘much needed rainfall.’
According to the USDA NASS, current hot and dry conditions are making for excellent hay harvesting weather, a positive sign for some farmers. Despite widespread reports of curling corn leaves, the USDA NASS also said 70 percent of soybeans and corn were rated in good to excellent condition.
Even with the lingering drought threats, farmers said the advancements in technology and crop protection help ease the anxiety. Right now, they’re staying positive and doing a little bit of a rain dance in the meantime.
“At this point there’s not a lot we can do, unless we have irrigation, which in my area, we do not,” said Roesner. “The advancements in corn breeding and some of the other stuff have really helped us be able to manage droughts in a better manner.”
“We always get a crop. We always produce a crop, and we see no reason at this point to think that it’s going to be diminished by any percentage,” said Beard. “I don’t think the consumer needs to be worried about a food shortage, not in the United States.”