Farmer: 'I've seen it drier'

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 6, 2012

By Nathan Hardin
SALISBURY — Triple-digit temperatures and an abnormally dry summer have taken their toll on corn stalks, soybeans and livestock.
But local farmers say they’ve seen worse.
Kim Starnes, co-owner of Four S Farms off Long Ferry Road, said his corn should be OK if the weather follows the forecast and the area gets rain next week.
A continued dry spell, though, could hurt corn that’s still pollinating and affect soybean plants that are in the early stages.
“If it stays like this for the remainder of July, then they’re going to be hurting,” he said.
Starnes’ son, Jason, said this year had been good until about two weeks ago, when temperatures started to climb past normal highs, eventually topping 100 degrees and breaking records last weekend.
Jason counted on one hand the number of times it’s rained in the past few weeks — and the exact amount it rained.
“The heat is worse if it’s dry,” he said.
The N.C. Drought Management Advisory Council said this week that Rowan is one of nearly three dozen North Carolina counties where conditions are abnormally dry. Another 17 have slipped into moderate drought.
The National Weather Service predicts temperatures in the upper 90s today and Sunday, with only a slight chance of a storm each day. Relief could come after Monday, with highs forecast in the 80s and a 40 percent to 50 percent chance of rain each day next week.
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Brad Johnson, livestock and dairy cooperative extension agent for Rowan County, said he hasn’t heard many concerns this year from farmers.
But some areas have been affected by dryness more than others.
“I’ve seen a bit of corn that’s curled up pretty badly in this heat, but at night it seems to uncurl in the cooler weather,” he said.
Regardless, the lack of rain isn’t close to the harshness of the early 2000s, Johnson said.
“I think we’re OK, drought-wise,” he said.
But he agreed the situation could get worse quickly without rain in the next few weeks.
“Livestock producers may start having to feed some hay because livestock aren’t going to be able to graze,” he said.
Chickens in outdoor coops are also vulnerable in hot weather, Johnson said, but commercial producers typically house their chickens in specialized units.
“They’re in an environmentally controlled facility,” he said.
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One of those facilities is on the Starnes’ property.
Along with soybeans, corn and wheat, the Starneses raise chickens and Black Angus cattle.
Inside a long red chicken house — one of four on the property — the Starnes prepared Friday afternoon for new chicks.
All 13,000 of them.
Chickens can be susceptible to heat, but those at the farm are in a controlled environment.
Younger chicks do better than older chickens in the warm weather, Jason Starnes said.
The temperature inside the house stays a cool 94 degrees.
The constant breeze is key, he said. Large fans blow through the houses, keeping the chickens cool.
A small “control room” beside the house monitors the amount of feed, water and breeze the chickens get, Jason Starnes said, regardless of the scorching heat outside.
A high-tech generator attached to the building starts immediately if there is a power outage.
It’s one of the types of technology, Jason said, that farmers are using to help maintain consistency in different areas of agriculture.
Another type is a variety of corn plants they have that intentionally curl up in the heat.
“It’s just part of the defense mechanism built into the variety,” Jason said. “It’s looking bad, but that’s not such a bad thing as it used to be.”
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David Correll, of Correll Farms, said his corn and soybeans have also been affected by the harsh conditions.
Even if it were to rain, he said, the damage may have been done.
“A lot of it is getting to the point now where there is not a lot helping it,” he said. “The corn is done making what it’s going to make.”
Correll said it’s difficult to tell the extent of the weather’s effect until harvest time.
“It can affect the size of the kernel and the weight of the kernel,” he said.
The extremely hot and dry weather, he said, can be devastating to corn.
“It will greatly diminish yield as to what it would be with the rain,” Correll said.
Johnny Moore, a Mount Ulla dairy farmer, said rain is expected early next week. And that could change everything.
“I still feel like our corn will be fair if we get rain in the next five to 10 days,” he said.
Moore said his crops still have some water in them from the last storm, but it’s disappearing quickly.
“I’m optimistic,” he said. “I’ve seen it drier.”
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.