Corn and soybean farming faces uncertainty as drought drags on

NEW WINDSOR, Illinois -- Walking through his cornfields, Jeff Kirwan picked out an ear of corn and tore off its husk to examine it.

The lower half of the ear had started to turn yellow.  "This part of the ear is still up for debate as to whether it makes corn or not, just because of how much moisture there is," he said, pointing to its tip.

Kirwan farms corn and soybeans on 2500 acres in New Windsor in Mercer County. He already knows his farm will take a hit this year.

"There's no doubt about it," he said.

"Our yields have been compromised. We are not gonna see what we have in last couple years. I would say anywhere from ten to twenty percent yield reduction today from what our typical average yields are."

As the dry conditions drag on, that number could get bigger.

"Right now we are in this huge period of uncertainty," he said, adding "We might still continue to slide if it doesn’t rain for another two weeks. That really becomes detrimental."

Kirwan said farmers have been hammered: There was excessive rain early in the season and the saturated soil didn't allow for plants to root well. Now there's not nearly enough rain.

"We have not had a significant rainfall since the Fourth of July weekend," he said.

The dry conditions are showing up in cracks on the ground.

"Everything is challenging. There’s corn that’s fired up all the way to the ear, which means all the leaves are turning brown. The plant is cannibalizing itself to finish the ear, the corn that it’s producing."

Kirwan's 1200 acres of soybeans aren't looking much better.

"We're in a critical stage with these. If it stays dry, these blossoms won't amount to anything."

Kirwan,  who also serves as District 3 Director with the Illinois Farm Bureau covering Mercer, Rock Island, Henry, Stark and Whiteside Counties, said crop insurance and a federal agricultural disaster declaration for Illinois helps.

"That allows us to access federal low-interest assistance loans," he said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday declared all counties in Illinois a disaster area due to flooding earlier this season and the current drought.

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