Farmers losing optimism for corn due to drought

August 19, 2018

Storm clouds have hovered over Kankakee County during the past few weeks, but farmers have been overshadowed by a drought.

Before the Fourth of July, farmers were touting how rapidly corn was growing. Since then, however, the county has run dry.

While it rained in the eastern part of the county Friday morning, farmers generally feel this year’s corn harvest has been stunted.

“Two weeks ago, I would have told you you that we were probably looking at our best corn crop ever. Then, the rain shut off,” said Keith Mussman, who farms 1,800 acres northeast of Grant Park. “In a nutshell, we are desperate for rain.”

An isolated dry spell has hit the area, causing a moderate drought in the western third of the county. For instance, Bourbonnais received 1.25 inches of rain Friday morning, and Herscher only received about two-tenths of an inch.

“You could drive from Herscher to Momence, and they average about a quarter-inch of rain,” said WGN Meteorologist Mike Janssen, who graduated from Herscher High School. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see people out in the fields on Labor Day.”

Patrick Koerner, who farms corn and soybeans in Cabery, said he only had received about seven-tenths of an inch of rain since the last week of June. He already is starting to see corn tipping over.

With the U.S. enforcing trade tariffs against China, Koerner is not optimistic about this year’s yield.

“The last bad year we had was 2012. It’s not going to be that bad, but there wasn’t any of this trade tariff nonsense going on,” Koerner said. “Don’t get me wrong, I think the president is right in the long run, but we are on the frontline right now.

“In 2012, I sold corn out of the field for $7.55 a bushel in the middle of October. If I went to my bin right now, I bet I could only get $3.33 for fall delivery.”

Kankakee County Farm Bureau Director Chad Miller said his agency still is surveying the county for damage to crops. He also reiterated concerns about trade tariffs between the U.S. and China.

“The agricultural commodity prices for corn and soybeans have been depressed due to the trade tariff discussions,” Miller said. “One hope is to overcome those price drops with a high yield, but the lack of rain in this area may have shot those hopes.”

Nonetheless, farmers are still optimistic about this year’s soybean harvest, especially with rain forecast for next week.

“I still have my fingers crossed,” Koerner said. “August makes your beans green. We can still have heavy rains. If we get a nice downpour, we may add more bushel. You just need moisture to fill out the pods.”

And farmers are trying everything they can to convince Mother Nature to make that happen – from rain dances to other quirky rituals.

“You wash your car. You leave your windows open. You do everything you can to make it rain,” Mussman said. “The frustrating part, though, is it’s going to rain when it wants. It’s out of our control.”

Update hourly