Lack of rain having impact on crops

There is an old saying that corn should be “knee high by the Fourth of July.” However, along the Interstate 80 corridor, that was not the case this year.

The lack of rainfall has caused problems for rural homeowners with wells as well as farmers trying to grow crops.

“It appears that the I-80 corridor in the last 60 days is 51 to 75 percent below the average rainfall. Venango, Clarion, Jefferson, Warren and Forest are all in that zone,” said Justin Brackenrich, Penn State Extension educator for Field and Forage Crops.

“The further south you go the numbers are less, in the 20 to 50 percent range. The I-80 corridor seems to be the dividing line.”

That lack of rain has a wide impact.

“We are in an absence of water. We are minus-2.8 inches for the last 30 days,” Brackenrich said.

“There are many more ramifications than corn. There are people depending on springs and wells for their water, fisheries and other industries.”

Many cornfields in the area show the lack of rain.

“Right now is really crucial for the corn,” he said. “We are starting to enter the tasseling stage on a lot of our corn. That signifies ear development and that is when we need the most amount of water to get pollination and kernel development.

“Up to this point we would have loved to have had more water, but right now is when we have to have water. If we do not get water soon we won’t have the development we need.”

There are crops that need substantial water.

“Generally, anytime we are talking about flowering crops, whether it is pumpkins or corn, this is the most critical point,” Brackenrich said.

“We need the moisture, but we also don’t want excessive heat. The heat will dry the pollen and, with corn, dries the silk. The heat exacerbates the lack of moisture.”

Brackenrich said it is estimated at this time of year, for corn, three-tenths of an inch of rain a day is needed to avoid losses.

“You won’t completely lose your crop, but we won’t see maximum yields,” he said. “If you peel back the sweet corn, you will find the last inch or inch and a half won’t be developed. We will see that partial development in our field crops.”

Some of the farmers are using the corn as feed on their farms. Those with large herds could be looking at this as a silage crop. Others use it for cash flow on a commodity basis.

“They are selling it to a mill and then it becomes an economic issue if they contracted a whole lot of bushels and they can’t deliver,” Brackenrich said.

“I can make this as fancy or as difficult as you want it to be. But, at the end of the day, we just need rain.”

Relief ahead?

According to meteorologist Lee Hendricks, of the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh, the I-80 corridor is expected to see increased chances of rain through the middle of August.

“The rain is generally going to be rain showers or thunderstorms; it’s not going to be uniform, and it is going to be spotty,” he said.

What that means, Hendricks said, is some areas could get a lot of rain, while others receive none. In other words, “hit or miss.”

Over the next seven days, according to Hendricks, there is a chance of rain of each day along the I-80 corridor, beginning with a 20% chance today and up to 80% through the day Monday. Tuesday looks like only day with no precipitation.

He said consistent temperatures in the high 80s and low 90s “have really knocked down the water table and impacted crops,” but “seasonal normal temperatures from Monday onward will help the situation. Things are looking a little better through late summer, but there is going to be spotty coverage at best.”

Hendricks said Venango County currently has a stream flow of better than 24%, “which is a benchmark for drought-watching and enough to get you on the map for keeping a close eye on those areas.”

In Clarion and Forest counties, he said, stream flow is at 10% to 24%, which is below normal and matches the statewide average. Anything above 25% stream flow is considered normal.

Hendricks said decisions on drought watches, advisories and warnings come from the state Department of Environmental Protection, and that the DEP consults with the National Weather Service and other agencies before making its decision. “We get on a call with them when they start looking at them.”

As for “right now,” he said, “your area is just abnormally dry.”

However, Hendricks said, some counties in the I-80 corridor “could end up in moderate drought level, but at this point I don’t anticipate a severe drought.”


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