06/11/11 — Lack of rain takes toll on corn crop

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Lack of rain takes toll on corn crop

By Aaron Moore
Published in News on June 11, 2011 11:43 PM

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Kevin Johnson inspects corn suffering from the recent spate of dry, hot weather.

Summer is ahead of schedule and the heat it has brought is wreaking havoc on the corn crop in Wayne County.

Despite a light rainfall Friday morning, many farmers believe they could lose their crop within a week without more substantial rain.

"(Corn's) not going to have as big a year," said Kevin Johnson, Cooperative Extension director and field crop agent. "The whole county's hurting right now."

Johnson expressed his concern months ago, as plants went into the ground, about Wayne and surrounding counties possibly facing a second year of drought. Last year, drought hit the area hard, leaving thousands of acres dry during the growing season. At the same time, temperatures hit the 90s daily.

This year, Princeton farmer Kelvin Norris is watching as the nightmare begins again. Up early, he said he can see the corn plant's leaves already starting to curl before 7 a.m. in self-protection against the coming heat.

He said temperatures at this time of year normally average in the 80s.

Timing is the key to a good corn crop, Johnson explained. The plants need water especially at the tasseling stage, when the corn's ears are made. That is normally in mid- to late June.

William Jackson, a Mount Olive farmer, said his corn, planted in late March, is suffering most because it has reached its critical pollinating stage.

He said pollination can't occur in hot, dry weather, when the silks that will lead to ears dry up.

"It's suffering pretty bad," Jackson said. "The heat's worse than the dryness. Any rain would do some good, though."

Jackson said he could lose as much as $150,000 if he loses his crop. And with little chance of rainfall on the horizon, Jackson said that scenario is getting more and more likely for himself as well as for other local farmers.

The question is, why continue to plant a crop that presents such a risk?

Jackson said it is worth the chance.

"I'm always going to plant corn," he said. "The risk is there, but there's always going to be risk."

And with corn prices at an all-time high, it's a gamble many Wayne farmers have taken this year.

The hot, dry streak has forced many farmers to hold off on planting soybeans, Johnson said. But cotton, which is seeing record high prices, is faring well. It is a crop that does well in dry times, he said.

"It likes the hot, dry weather," he said.

Johnson said this is the third consecutive bad year for corn, an unusual trend. Based on statistics, he said he hopes to see a better year next year.