Despite recent rains, Grayson County has joined the list of Kentucky counties designated as primary drought disaster areas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The designation was issued earlier this week by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and includes Breckinridge County as well. In a letter to Gov. Steve Beshear, Vilsack said the designation was being made because both counties have had either severe (D2) drought for at least eight consecutive weeks or extreme (D3) drought at any point during the growing season.
Although the state had above-normal rainfall last week, it wasn’t enough to offset the shortages earlier in the year. According to data from the Kentucky Mesonet network, Grayson County has had 21.61 inches of rain by the end of July — about 10 inches less than an average year. In 2011, the county had received 46 inches of rain by the end of July.
“The drought’s grip on our state is not weakening, and that jeopardizes not only crops and livestock, but the very livelihood of our farm families,” said Gov. Beshear. “We remain in close contact with Agriculture Commissioner James Comer as well as our state and federal partners, particularly the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, as we determine how to best help our farmers who are suffering from the effects of drought. I appreciate Secretary Vilsack’s continued efforts to make sure our hard-working families have the resources they need to endure this historic drought.”
Kentucky now has 28 counties designated as primary drought disaster areas, and another eight designated as “contiguous” disaster areas. Both Grayson and Breckinridge counties were previously designated as contiguous disaster areas.
To date this year, the USDA has designated more than 1,500 counties in 33 states — more than half of all U.S. counties — as drought disaster areas. The designations make farmers in those counties eligible for low-interest emergency loans.
Jack Ewing, Grayson County Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources, said the county’s agricultural crops and gardens have been “seriously hurt” by the drought.
The latest crop report from the USDA’s statistical service, issued Monday, rated 77 percent of Kentucky’s corn crop as poor or very poor, with 17 percent of the crop rated fair and 6 percent rated good or excellent. The assessment of the soybean crop was better — with 48 percent rated poor or very poor, 30 percent fair and 22 percent good or excellent.
Some farmers in the hardest hit drought areas of western Kentucky have started harvesting their corn for grain.
Ewing said he’s estimating countywide yields for corn will drop this fall to 40 to 45 bushels per acre. The average yield countywide is normally 90 bushels, he said, with some areas yielding 160 bushels or more.
“The year got off to a great start, precipitation wise, and everybody was anticipating good yields,” he said Friday. Agriculture “could have been a real bright spot in our economy.”
Area farmers are having to move livestock off pasture areas because of conditions, Ewing said. The USDA statistical service said 27 percent of Kentucky’s pasture land is in very poor condition, with 26 percent rated poor, 32 percent fair, 14 percent good and 1 percent excellent.
For everybody from agriculture-related businesses to grocery stores and gas stations, it’s a wait-and-see situation.
Daron Bell with Crop Production Services in Clarkson said if the drought continues, farmers may not be able to sow fall crops and seed pasture land. That would mean a leaner fall, business wise, for the company, which supplies “inputs” like fertilizers to area farmers.
“The farming income that’s generated in the fall goes to pay for a lot of things,” Bell said.
And with yields down nationwide, consumers will probably be facing higher costs for food and even gasoline in coming months, he noted.