Midwest rains help drought-stricken farmers, but how much?

Thanks to heavy rains across the Midwest, the amount of land under drought declined this week. The forecast for the weeks ahead looks cooler, but much damage has been done. 

Nati Harnik/AP
Dark clouds from a passing thunder storm hang over a dry cornfield in Blair, Neb., earlier this month.

Rainstorms that pounded the Midwest Thursday provided relief to farmers hit hard by the worst drought in 56 years, but agriculture experts say it wasn’t enough to mitigate the lasting devastation to corn and soybean crops this summer.

Between 1.0 and 1.5 inches of rain fell across from the upper Midwest, stretching from Iowa through Ohio. Cooler temperatures between 70- to 80-degrees Fahrenheit followed and are forecast to continue through the Labor Day weekend. 

The rainfall meant a reduction of land scorched by drought – 61.8 percent of the Midwest this week, down from 62.5 percent last week, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

The NDMC said Thursday that 85 percent of corn grown in the US is within an area suffering from drought, along with 83 percent of the soybeans.

According to Illinois farmer John Hawkins, who is also a spokesman for the Illinois Farm Bureau, the rain may have eased the stress on fragile plant life, but “it’s not going to make it whole yet by any stretch of the imagination, and there will be lower yields.”

“The problem with the rains was it was too little, too late as far as adding any extra yield,” Mr. Hawkins says.

“The cornstalks were already weakened by the drought so they were weakened even more when the heavy rains and winds hit them and they fell over. Picking up downed corn is not fun by any standard,” he says.

Come harvest time between September and October, the Midwest soybean crop is expected to fare better than corn. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) forecasts soy yield per acre will fall to nearly a 10-year low while the number of corn bushels yielded per acre will reach a 17-year low.

The cooler temperatures and milder weather conditions will not give farmers a chance to plant new crops and try to make up for lost time. “The window [for planting] closed right after the Fourth of July,” Hawkins says. “In the northern hemisphere, there’s really nothing we can do from now until next spring.”

The production shortage is driving crop prices to record highs. On Wednesday, December corn delivery prices rose 15 cents to $8.04 per bushel while November soybean delivery increased 36.5 cents to $15.36 per bushel, according to the Associated Press.

In Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn announced four programs that will ease restrictions on bank loans and debt restructuring. Of the state’s 102 counties, 100 were deemed federal disaster areas this week, making farmers eligible for low-interest emergency loans. 

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