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Grain crops struggling without rain

BY LAUREN P. DUNCAN lduncan@paducahsun.com

Kentucky's corn and soybean crops are facing a perilous end of the season, though last weekend's rain helped growth in western Kentucky.

The outlook for Kentucky's crops six weeks ago was strong. The recent lack of rain, however, has not been the farmer's friend.

The USDA National Agricultural Statistic Service's Louisville field office reported Tuesday that while grain crops are expected to produce a record yield nationally, Kentucky's outlook has declined. Corn crops in Kentucky are expected to yield 18 percent lower than last year and soybeans are expected to come in 17 percent lower.

Those numbers reflect the season's outlook prior to rain last weekend, according to Chad Lee, extension agronomist with the University of Kentucky.

Lee said last Friday's rain was good for soybean and corn crops, but the moisture came too late for corn in some regions. Corn fields between Hopkinsville and Bowling Green are probably the most at risk.

"It will probably be some of the worst corn," Lee said. "It's too late for it."

Beginning in late June, corn is most sensitive to the weather when it is trying to pollinate. The dry spell between the beginning of July and August hampered those efforts. According to information from the Paducah National Weather Service, the region saw 2.04 inches of rainfall in July, less than half of normal 4.33 inches. Local rain in August has totaled 1.62 inches. 

Lee said he expects last weekend's rain to increase the USDA's soybean yield estimate, and corn was helped in some areas including Henderson, Owensboro and Elizabethtown.

Trent Murdock, Graves County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, said soybeans really need rain now while the region's corn outlook is mixed. 

"It's not as good as it could have been, but hopefully the corn was far enough it didn't hurt it too badly," he said. "The corn crops are not ideal, but at this point I don't think a lot of rain would help it."

Cooler temperatures this summer have slowed the damage done by the dryness in late July and early August. National Weather Service data show the Paducah region's average monthly temperature for July was 75, several degrees below normal.

"The one saving grace was that it was relatively cooler than other summers, so we weren't pulling out as much water as in the past," Lee said.

According to the USDA, more than 80 percent of Kentucky's corn and soybean crops were rated as good or excellent on July 6, but that fell to less than 60 percent last Sunday.

Lee said if the corn crop is bad enough it could trigger crop insurance to increase again. Meanwhile, the expected record high of grain crops nationally could lower the price per bushel, doubly hurting Kentucky farmers.

"It's really disheartening," he said.

USDA estimates up until Aug. 1 show corn yields projected to average 138 bushels per acre, down from last year's 170 bushels. Kentucky's soybeans are projected to average 40 bushels per acre, down from last year's 49.4 bushels.

The late-summer dryness across the commonwealth followed heavy rainfall during the first week of June.

"The problem is we ran out of water right when our crops had the biggest demand for it," Lee said.

Contact Lauren Duncan, Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8692 or follow @laurenpduncan on Twitter.

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