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This Year It’s Rain That Is Hurting U.S. Crops

ST. LOUIS (UPI) — Farmers in the U.S. Midwest say they are burdened with the opposite problem this spring as the one they endured in 2012 with too much water this time around.

Last year, a serous drought had set in by June and that did not even reverse itself until the early season of 2013, The New York Times reported Monday.

Even through most of the winter, moisture looked like it would remain a scarce commodity. But what is worse: Too much of a good thing or too little?

“This is the worst spring I can remember in my 30 years farming. Just continuous rain, not having an opportunity to plant. It can still be a decent crop, but as far as a good crop or a great crop, that’s not going to happen,” said Rob Korff, a Missouri farmer who plants 3,500 acres of soybeans and corn.

To farmers, the frustration looks different year after year. To consumers, it looks the same. To consumers prices go up whether yields were punished by hail, flattened by wind, drowned in floods or deprived of water by drought.

“If there’s a shortage of corn and soybeans, and feed costs are higher … you end up seeing higher meat prices than you would have if you’d had a full supply,” Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey said.

To describe the difference another way, by mid-May this year, just 28 percent of the nation’s corn crop had been planted as tractors could not usually traverse muddy fields. Last year, 85 percent of the corn crop was in the ground by mid-May.

Farmers, however, have narrowed that gap considerably. In the latest weekly Department of Agriculture crop progress report, 91 percent of the corn crop had been planted — only 9 percentage points behind last year, when farmers were done planting.

Too much water also drowns young plants — with water taking up the space in the soil that would otherwise by taken up by oxygen. So this year’s crops have hardly begun to emerge, although they might be 2 feet high by now on a good year.

In dry weather, crops still grow — for a while. They might get “leggy,” which occurs when they are growing fast to find water.

In wet years, the damage tends to show up immediately. In dry years, the stalks might grow, but the corn cobs might be small or late coming around.

Speaking of legs, four-legged cattle can negotiate a wet field and drier areas are more likely to be dedicated to pasture, rather than moisture-dependent crops. So if this has been a wet year for those areas, then farmers with herds on pastures might be very pleased.

“This has been a great spring for cattlemen — just absolutely perfect,” said Kyle Kirby, whose herd in Liberal, Mo., is a large one: 2,500 head.

That said, “it doesn’t matter how wet it is today,” Kirby said. On any given day, “we’re just two weeks away from a drought.”

UPI - United Press International, Inc.

Since 1907, United Press International (UPI) has been a leading provider of critical information to media outlets, businesses, governments and researchers worldwide.

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