There’s an old adage that if you don’t like the weather in Indiana, stick around a bit. But that’s not proving true this summer as a majority of the state is experiencing a severe drought with no end in sight.
“I don’t ever remember it being quite so bad,” said Edith Pence, who grows vegetables to sell at the weekly Pittsboro Farmers’ Market. “What little we got, it really helped because we didn’t have to worry about trying to water. With the sun and the heat the way it’s been, it just melts your plants. I’ve had part of my garden dry up and die. My peppers seem to be doing well. My okra has been coming on really well now.”
Phyllis Merrett, also a regular at the farmers’ market, said they’ve had to improvise to keep their garden growing this summer.
“My husband is doing a lot of watering and he’s afraid it will effect our well, so he’s been going up to a place where we used to live that’s a farm that has a well there and has been bringing the water back to the house,” she said.
Merrett said this summer’s weather will likely impact grocery budgets for the foreseeable future.
“Our corn did very poorly,” she said. “I think it’ll effect the groceries we buy at the store.”
Jon Cain with the Purdue Extension of Hendricks County said corn crops have taken the brunt of the drought.
“With these conditions, it’s effected pollination and it’s variable depending on the different soils and how many hundredths of rain there’s been across the county, but there hasn’t been much,” he said. “Each field has that window of time which that pollination has to take place and that’s pretty well past. It’s been pretty severely compromised over the county.”
Hot, dry weather and high temperatures have battered the condition of the silks on the corn that the pollen moves down, and Cain says that due to the short pollination window, the damage has already been done to corn. Soybeans typically would be less effected, but even they are needing some water soon, he added.
“Soybeans are a little different in that there’s not a defined set window of time which they bloom and set pods,” Cain explained. “If we receive rains now on through really August, they can go ahead and bloom and set more pods and you can get a half decent crop in some cases. I talked to one farmer who has bush beans out in his fields and the pods were even aborting on the bush beans because of the extreme heat. It’s going to have to be fairly soon, because we’ll be closing that window before too much longer.”
Bees, however, have a different take on the weather.
Rob Green, owner of Bluffwood Creek Organics, said his bees are doing fine.
“The bees are doing well as long as there are flowers in bloom, and on my farm I have a field of purple flowers and my alfalfa is in bloom,” he said. “I keep it in bloom with some irrigation, so my bees are packing in honey like there’s no tomorrow.
“Other people who are surrounded by dry, crispy flowerbeds and fields, they’re doing poorly with their bees but for me, when my bees wake up in the morning, they have an all-day buffet in front of them. They seem very happy. I have a very deep well that cost me a lot of money and until Friday I hadn’t turned off my hose in two months. Some are doing OK, but other (bee farms) are beginning to hurt from the lack of flowers to slurp on.”
But Green admits that the drought is hitting him elsewhere.
“On a larger scale, my popcorn crop is a disaster and my garden is a disaster because of the heat,” he said. “No amount of supplemental water will change that. My farm is certified organic so my seed costs a lot more and trying to pay for organic fertilizer costs a lot more. I have a great honey product, but I seem to be more dependent on nature than most other farmers that use chemicals.”
Green also sells hay, something that Cain says will greatly effect the meat market in the coming future as animals need to eat and lush, green grass is not readily available due to the drought.
“Those that have large livestock herds in the county are going to have to pay larger prices for their grain and corn, especially for swine as that’s a big part of their diet,” Cain said. “It’s going to be extremely expensive, as well as the soybean meal they might feed.
“It will be higher priced, will be the difference. The one that sees the most is the meat products and that (higher pricing) will be delayed because the producers see this train coming down the track at them and they know they won’t be able to afford this stuff and their forage supplies are tight and they’re moving their animals out and moving them to the sale barn, cattle and swine to some extent. Temporarily, there will be an over supply of meat on the market, but after that surplus is gone, then the shortage will kick in and the price will rise. They’ll be culling their animals that are questionable and selling them underweight so it makes no sense to sell them out when you’re losing money feeding them. It makes more sense to get rid of any that are less productive.”
Green said he’s already seeing the affects of that.
“I’m selling hay higher, and I don’t have much to sell,” he said. “It’s certified organic hay and our next cutting may never go to the barn. It may go right to delivery. My hay feeds the bees first and is then sold to very grateful patrons. I’ll be putting down buckwheat in the next several days, which puts nitrogen back in the soil.”
Cain said that farmers who planned ahead should be in a good position, in spite of the drought.
“There is a safety net for crop producers and the window for that is already gone,” he said. “They had to sign up for crop insurance much earlier and they can’t sign up after the fact. I’d hope the larger producers have signed up and I think most of them have. Those that will get the most compensation are those that sign up at a higher level. They’re the ones that’ll be in the best shape. Those that did will be able to come out pretty well because they’ll be compensated at pretty high rates and should be protected well from the disastrous situation. If some didn’t and have poor yields, those people will be effected severely financially.”