Early harvest has highs, lows
Too much heat and too little rain has combined to produce an early harvest for Baldwin City area farmers. And that's not necessarily good.
"That's right. That would be a good assessment," said Bill Wood, Douglas County agriculture agent. "Our corn died so fast that the stalks are dry and brittle which makes it tough to cut. If there are heavy cobs, that makes for a tough adjustment, too.
"This year is just a tough year," said. Wood.
The drought-like conditions from the driest July on record were made even worse by temperatures consistently over 90 degrees and recently of 100 degrees. That left field upon field of dried up, brown corn that few thought would produce much. That's the case for the most part, but there are some good fields, too.
"We've talked to several farmers and some of the corn that was planted early is better than expected, with some of it producing 80 bushels to the acre," he said. "The corn that was planted later wasn't nearly as good. Our corn harvest this year isn't going to be nearly as good as last year.
"We hit July when the water shut off and the heat went up," said Wood. "The corn that was planted late just couldn't make it."
A check with Baldwin Feed Co. last week found about the same, with Verlyn Gilges reporting a wide range in yields so far.
"We've had some 20-30 bushel corn, but we've had some 80 bushel corn, too," said Gilges.
The corn harvest yields may be riding the roller coaster, but it's a different story for the area's other major cash crop, soybeans. There may not even be an early harvest for them.
"We normally do not expect to be combining in August," said Wood. "I was talking to a farmer and said we'll probably be done with corn in 10-15 days, then what are you going to do all fall because there aren't any beans to harvest.
"I haven't talked to any farmer that has beans," he said.
Vinland's Larry Craig confirmed both of those developments while getting ready to resume cutting corn with his son, Mike, Thursday after lunch.
"In a normal year, we wouldn't have stopped cutting corn for lunch," said Craig. "There's no hurry this year with harvest. It's pretty bad. I don't even want to talk about soybeans. There aren't any."
Wood said that disaster payments may be the only chance for farmers to make any money off the soybean crop this year.
"Your best economic gain in the end is to get a complete loss and not pull the combine out of the shed," he said. "At this point of the game, most farmers are hoping to zero out and get some insurance."
There is another option with the soybeans, but that's based on a need and quickness. Some farmers have started mowing the soybeans and baling them for hay.
"If a farmer has a use for the hay or a neighbor who has use for it, as long as it still has some green in it, it's as good as alfalfa hay," said Wood. "It makes good quality hay if you get it before it turns yellow."
And that brings it all to two other effects of the drought -- lots of grasshoppers and feeding hay to cattle. The grasshoppers haven't made much of a difference in the corn and soybeans, Wood said, but they do in the pastures.
"They don't help," he said. "They are here because it's so hot and dry. They have eaten a lot of grass in the pastures."
That has led to the early need for feeding cattle.
"Mike Flory told me at the fair 'I'm feeding hay and hauling water in August just like I was last year,'" Wood said of the advanced care needs for cattle. "If a farmer is lucky enough to have water near his soybeans, I'd graze cattle on the soybeans and save the hay. But, there aren't too many places where water's available like that."
It's only been about two months ago when the county's wheat harvest was one of the best ever because of the lack of rain and heat. But Wood said at that time the wheat harvest wasn't enough to help the farmers. They needed the good harvest from corn and soybeans to make it. That didn't happen.
"No, it didn't," he said. "That wheat harvest wasn't nearly enough. This is going to be one tough year on the farmers."