While recent rain has brought a sigh of relief for many northeast Indiana residents, more rain is needed before an extreme drought designation can be lifted.
The U.S. Drought Monitor, updated every Thursday, shows most of northeast Indiana in an extreme drought, with more counties in southwest Indiana sliding into one of the hardest-hit drought areas in the Midwest.
The monitor gauges drought at five levels, beginning with abnormally dry and moving up the scale with moderate, severe, extreme and exceptional drought. About 23 counties in southwest Indiana are in the exceptional category.
While recent rain in northeast Indiana has lessened drought conditions, the showers came too late for many crops, particularly corn, said Jeff Wolheter, agriculture and natural resources extension educator for Noble County.
The entire county is under an extreme drought alert. Other counties in extreme drought conditions are Huntington, Kosciusko, Steuben and Whitley. Portions of Allen, DeKalb and Wells counties are in both extreme and severe drought conditions and Adams County is in severe drought.
Weve been hit pretty hard this year, Wolheter said, adding that the drought is the worst to hit this area since the 1950s. Some parts of the county registered less than 1 inch of rain from May 1 until July 16, he said.
Noble County received about 4 inches of rain since July 16, and that has helped extremely, Wolheter said.
But the deep layers of the soil are still very dry and without more rain, it will not take long to negate the benefits of the recent rains, he said. Because extreme heat and drought do not bode well for pollination, and the first week of July – when the corn normally pollinates – saw extremely dry conditions coupled with temperatures of more than 100 degrees, the crops growth was stunted, Wolheter said.
Some farmers are chopping up the corn stalks for silage because theres so little grain, he said.
If the drought does not continue for too much longer, or if we continue to get rain, soybean crops should do OK, Wolheter said.
The drought will have a ripple effect, beginning with poor corn crops, and eventually affecting food and grain prices, livestock farmers and more, Wolheter said.
Besides corn, hay and alfalfa yields are down. Alfalfa, corn, barley and soybeans are many times grown and used as forage by livestock farmers.
The silage feed made from chopped-up corn plants could also put animals at risk.
Extreme drought causes corn plants to pull in more nitrates, which at high levels are toxic to animals, Wolheter said.
The extension office is encouraging farmers to test corn silage for toxicity before feeding it to livestock.
With yields down and grain prices expected to increase, some livestock producers will be forced to sell some of their cattle, Wolheter said.
While many farmers have crop insurance, there is no insurance available for livestock farmers affected by the drought, Wolheter said.
We wont see the effects of the drought on livestock producers right away, but we will definitely see it down the road, Wolheter said.
According to the National Weather Service, during the next seven days, there is a 60 percent chance of thunderstorms for parts of northeast Indiana, beginning Saturday night and continuing through Sunday morning.