EVANSVILLE — Severe drought conditions still exist in some western Corn Belt states such as Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota, and while the drought that began in 2012 is ongoing, the possibility is good that Indiana and other eastern corn producing states will have a wetter year, according to agricultural experts.
“The forecast looks good for moisture in the eastern Corn Belt this winter,” said Chris Hurt, an agricultural economist at Purdue University. “The Evansville area could have a more normal year.”
That’s good news for Indiana farmers whose crops and livelihoods were ravaged by severe drought last year. Farmers in more western states are still dealing with severe drought conditions, Hurt said.
Unlike previous years, there is no single controlling factor governing this winter’s weather, said Kenneth Scheeringa, assistant state climatologist for Indiana.
He said while November was dry and December was generally warmer than normal for much of the state, that recent winter storms have already brought significant moisture.
“We won’t stay on one thing very long. It’s not one persistent thing controlling the climate. If you don’t like what you’ve got just wait, it will change,” Scheeringa said.
Summer 2012 was a harsh one for farmers. During 10 days in late June and early July, temperatures in Evansville surpassed 100 almost every day, setting record highs on many of those days.
Those scorching conditions came at the worst possible time, Hurt said. An early, wet spring delayed planting just enough that most corn was pollinating in July when the drought was at its zenith.
“If the heat kills the pollen you don’t get seeds,” Hurt said. “You never know if it is going to be a dry year until after the year or at least the planting date.”
Indiana farmers produced 73 bushels of corn per acre last year compared to a normal yield of 165 bushels per acre, he said. That was just 44 percent of the normal yield.
Soybeans proved more drought-resistant but were still down, producing 39 bushels per acre compared to the normal 46 bushels, Hurt said.
While it is difficult to predict what will happen with climate and crops in the new year, the effects of last year’s drought will be felt far into 2013, for both farmers and consumers.
Some of those effects are already being felt, such as increased prices of products made from soybeans and corn such as cooking oil, salad dressings and those containing high fructose corn syrup.
Hurt said those prices will begin to come down in late summer or early fall with the arrival of new crops. However, animal product prices — particularly beef — will feel the impact of the drought into 2015, he said.
“Retail prices (for animal products) lag the drought by nearly a year,” Hurt said.
With feed more scarce, farmers are forced to reduce their herd sizes in the wake of droughts. Even though they may begin to grow their herd sizes coming out of a drought, it will take several years before that growth affects supply again, Hurt said.
Hurt said he anticipates more farmers will take advantage of crop insurance this year to help moderate the effects of the possibility of continuing drought. As much as 25 percent of Indiana’s corn and soybean acreage was not covered by crop insurance last year, he said.
Crop insurance, created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered by private companies, works similar to Medicare and offers protection against the loss of income associated with crop loss.
“I think everyone will re-examine crop insurance,” Hurt said. “The drought has had a very big impact on some incomes.”