By Matt Reese
I am fortunate to have one of those fancy I-phones for work. On the phone, I can surf the Web, send and receive email, record interviews, take photos, check Facebook, monitor Twitter, add posts to the website, and even play Angry Birds. While all of these applications do come in handy very regularly, the most-used feature on my fancy phone this summer has been the weather radar as I watch the rain (or lack of) move across the state. I downloaded an app (fancy phone speak for “application”) from The Weather Channel that provides a handy daily weather update and an animated radar map with up-to-the-minute accuracy. In years like this, this kind of app can be pretty addictive.
The app also has a feature where you can target the locations of the most interest on the map, and I have plenty of areas around the state I’m very interested in watching. I, of course, am very interested in the chances for rainfall on my family’s small farm in Hancock County, which is very dry, though they have caught a few more rains than many places. I also obviously pay pretty close attention to the rainfall chances on my small farm in Fairfield County.
In addition, I closely watch the farms of the “Between the Rows” farmers I call throughout the growing season. I root for all of Ohio agriculture to get needed rains, but I am especially pulling for those guys because, quite frankly, I would rather have reports from happy farmers with well-watered crops than the less-than-ideal rainfall situations that have been so prevalent this year. I also watch the handy radar on my phone to get an idea of where the rain is falling around the Corn Belt to get an idea of how widespread the problem is and the potential ramification in the crop markets. At least I can say that the short supply of rainfall around Ohio is not a result of my lack of wishful watching on the radar screen.
In my travels around Ohio I have seen some pretty tough looking fields as the drought worsens. By mid-July, the majority of Ohio was in moderate drought, with the western edge of the state experiencing severe drought. Nearly half of Ohio’s corn and more than 40% of Ohio’s soybeans were rated in poor or very poor condition by the USDA in mid-July. Ohio’s topsoil moisture was rated 63% very short, 31% short, 6% adequate, and 0% surplus.
According to Jeff Rogers, Ohio state climatologist and Ohio State professor of geography, the drought is a result of the typical summer high-pressure system that sits over the central U.S. This year, the high-pressure system is much stronger than usual, and it is preventing moisture from getting into the region. The tough-to-break drought cycle has started and the outlook moving forward is not a bright one.
“The long-term forecast for the next month or two calls for the expectation of higher-than-normal temperatures and lower-than-normal precipitation,” Rogers said. “The current forecast expectation is for the drought to continue and potentially get worse.”
Without much more precipitation, Rogers said Ohio could reach conditions similar to 1988 that is remembered for decreased corn, soybean and wheat production, widespread failure of hay cuttings, increased slaughter of livestock due to feed shortages and lower prices, increased insect activity, more crop disease, and increased livestock heat stress.
The problems are not just confined to Ohio. Indiana is worse and the drought stretches into much of Illinois, and westward to Missouri, Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, southern Wisconsin and southwestern Minnesota as well.
The limited rainfall situation has been significantly worsened by the blazing summer temperatures. The conditions are reflected in the condition and projected yields of the nation’s crops. In June, the USDA was projecting a record 166 bushels of corn per acre. That projected yield has been pushed down to 146 bushels per acre as of mid-July and some weather prognosticators were predicting yields around 138 bushels per acre.
The tough growing conditions will likely put pressure on crop insurance providers. USDA’s Risk Management Agency is reminding producers faced with questions on crop losses to contact their crop insurance companies and local USDA Farm Service Agency Service Centers, as applicable, to report damages to crops or livestock loss, and not to destroy or discontinue care for crops. Farmers participating in the federal crop insurance program are reminded to contact insurance agents or companies about any failing crops. USDA assures producers that indemnity payments will be made to producers who submit claims for crops and livestock. The USDA is also reminding livestock producers to keep thorough records of losses.
Needless to say, I have been making extra use of the radar app on my I-phone this summer, but, unfortunately, there is no correlation between my radar views and rainfall totals. In fact, most of the time the radar provides more bad news than good for all of my various areas of interest around Ohio and the country. Maybe I’d be better off playing Angry Birds.
On Tuesday, USDA Undersecretary Michael Scuse toured some of the hardest hit Ohio farms. Read about his visit.