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August 4, 2012

Drought 2012

I don't know if you have heard or not but there is a full fledged drought going on - no really there is and it sucks - I am so tired of the heat, the dust on everything and trying to stay light hearted and optimistic - I have never used the phrase "the elephant in the room" because until this year I didn't really comprehend it, but it is truly like having an elephant in the room and no one mentioning it for fear of complete depression setting in.

Chris and his Dad scout our fields regularly and he's always bringing in plants and corn to show me, so the other day I made him take me out and show me and let me take pictures of what is actually going on in the fields - yep it still pretty much sucks!

Chicks 58

This field was the last we planted, May 17. We walked into the better soils in this field.

This ear missed pollination, most likely due to extreme heat.

Looking down the rows you should by no means be able to see this far!

Chicks 11

This field is 100 yards away from the first field, but it was the first field we planted, April 12.
It has some corn in the low ground. These ears have a lot of rows, but are very short and kernels are very shallow. If this field was consistently like this, it might yield in the low hundreds, but this is the best area.

This is where the ear tipped back, or aborted kernels it had intended to set.


These beans were among the first planted, and this area is among our best soil types. Normally they would be chest high.

They are podded, but instead of 40 or more per plant, there is about 6,
and the seeds, which normally now are plump and swelled, are tiny.


This is some lighter soil we farm. There are no ears in this area. Doesn't even look like corn. Last time this field was in corn it made 200 BPA.

We finally found one.
But it didn't pollinate well. This field might yield in the single digits.


This field of beans became infested with spider mites in mid July. We sprayed them, and you can see new growth in the damaged areas, but they are having trouble recovered due to the lack of moisture.

Marietta 10

Here is a good ear, but the kernels will be very shallow and light. This field will be over a 100 bushels per acre.
This ear had a lot of potential,
but lost half of that potential due to aborting for lack of moisture.
A different ear of corn just a few plants down.


These beans are a lot taller
But they only have 9 pods at this point.
They did flower but aborted the flower to move on up the plant and when they aborted the flower no pod was produced.

Marietta West Hill

This field is across the road from the field I think will make over 100 above. It has more rolling ground.
It has ears. They look good.......but

another fooler. Looks OK till you peel back the shucks this field may make 30 bpa - truly no way to tell because we have never been in this situation as well as within each field the crop is so varied.

In 1983, and 1988, the most recent severe dry spells on our farm, our corn averaged in the 80 bpa range. I don't think it will be half that this year, but I hope I am wrong. We have had dry weather in smaller doses in other years more recently, but not as persistent as this year. We had 2.3" in May, which is a less than half of normal, but now sounds moist. We had no measurable rain in June, with very hot days, nearing 100, which came earlier than usual. July had more 100 degree days, and around 1/2" rain. This of course varies widely - these amounts are on our home farm where we measure, we also farm in a 15 mile radius, there have been a few fields in that area that have received more and some less.

We carry crop insurance, and it will prove it's worth this year for sure. Not all farmers carry insurance, as it is expensive, and many years isn't needed. Our challenge will be feeding our hogs. Not only will corn be hard to find if we don't grow enough, but it will be expensive. The hogs also eat a lot of soybean meal, which may double in price from what we paid in the winter of 2011. Our feed costs could easily be $90,000 higher than last year, and we are a very small hog farm. If we could stop the flow of hogs we would, but it is not something that can be shutdown overnight, or started back up easily. By the time the severity of this drought was realized, we already had 9 months of production in place, as from breeding to market is about 280 days. The pigs that will need 2012 corn are already on the farm, or are about to be born. We plan on toughing through it, so the farm is already in operation when things get straightened out. Corn will get cheaper, as 2013 supplies come available, and hogs might go up, as production is reduced. I would like to just turn off the switch for a few months, but that is not how it works.

I do however consider ourselves fortunate this year. I personally have not suffered this drought like farmers 100 years ago would have. I come in at  night to an air conditioned house that has water available on demand. I do not depend on my garden for my next years food supply, I will be able to find grain for my livestock, and move it here if necessary, it is only a matter of higher cost and inconvenience. The damage to us is purely financial, and a substantial part of that will be covered by our insurance, which has improved greatly in the past 20 years. The tools that we have available to manage our work are truly marvelous, and we are so accustomed to them we overlook them, and take them for granted. The tools of people 100 years ago all had handles, now we have switches, and steering wheels, and electric motors. $40 worth of garden hose will put water anywhere on the farmstead that we need it for a garden and/or livestock, we are not carrying buckets from the well, I am not out in the sun hoeing my corn, or forking loose hay onto a wagon.  We as a family still feel the physical and emotional toll this has taken but still consider ourselves fortuante and lucky to live this lifestyle that even during hardtimes we love.

This is how the drought affects us!  The cost of corn in a box of corn flakes is minor compared to the advertising, packaging, transportation, and labor to produce. But grain is a major expense in meat production. Feed often makes up 80% of the farm gate cost of milk, beef, pork and chicken. Cows are being culled as pastures dry up, reducing the future cattle supply. Not all sows will be rebred, as some producers exit the industry. Total meat supplies will probably contract, raising prices at the grocery.

 We can't tell you for sure how this years drought will affect the consumer but you have to keep in mind that farmers are consumers as well!


  1. It really has been the worst year ever. When I passed through your neck of the woods about a month ago, it just broke my heart to see the devastation the drought has caused. I'm listed in an extreme drought area, but I have nowhere near the loss your area does. Hang in there, and let's hope for a much better 2013.

  2. Great post chickadee, even though reality BITES. People need to hear the truth, and they always get ot from you. Getting ready to deal with ourbown elephant in the room..... You took the phrase right put of my mouth. Weighing the pros and cons of feeding out cattle this winter after we sell our corn fed fats this fall.

  3. Wow!! I knew you guys were in a drought but I had no idea things were that bad!! Thanks for the pictures.

  4. Great post I know it is very hard to understand what is truly going on to the average person you showed it perfectly.
    We cannot get crop insurance on cattle we had one inch of rain all of July our cows are in the last pond that has water after that Well I try to not think of that. We are feeding this winters hay.
    I am so happy you told the farmers side Jent. It is important people know.
    Take care my friend. Has your hair turned white like mine yet?
    Farming MMMM??

  5. Thanks for posting this in terms that everyone can understand. It's going to be a hard year not only for farmers but for every food consumer...and that's all of us. Up here in northern Indiana we're starting to hear of wells going dry. I've added prayers for a snowy winter, hoping that will help to replenish our water tables. I hate this because I know that not all farmers will survive, but I'm hopeful that this is a once in a lifetime occurence.

  6. Thanks for your plain-speaking post. This is the hardest part of farming; we work hard to produce the best crops possible, but we have no control over the weather. We're praying for a better crop for you next year. Hang in there.

  7. I am sadden by all the drought posts I am reading lately. We finally got the rain we needed (a little too late). We are selling about 20% of our organic dairy herd because there is no feed. I am not talking about only expensive feed. I am talking NO feed NO matter the price. We were just out bid by organic cattle guys in OH. You know it is bad when farmers are willing to truck hay from MN to OH.

  8. Hard to read, but you did a nice job both with the photos and the explanation. Every year farming is a gamble, since no matter how much the farmers plan, push their pencils, do their research, maintain their equipment, and make wise decisions based on what they know at time, we just cannot control the weather. Thank goodness they are optimistic at heart, and will be out there next year doing their best!

  9. That was very good Well said Yes it will be a slim year but as you said wouldn't have it any other way

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