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Drought-weary farmers await Isaac's remnants

Associated Press Modified: August 30, 2012 at 6:00 pm •  Published: August 30, 2012

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Indiana farmer John Kolb normally would welcome storms that could provide his crops with badly needed water in this summer of drought. Instead, he and other Corn Belt farmers are nervously watching the forecast as Hurricane Isaac's remnants slog their direction, concerned they could end up getting too much of a good thing.

The reason for their worry: Strong winds could topple corn stalks already severely weakened by the nation's worst drought in two generations, and a possible deluge could muddy the fields and slow bringing in whatever crop is still salvageable.

"We could really use the moisture, but I don't want wind," Kolb, 41, said from the 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans he farms with his dad and uncle in southeastern Indiana's Franklin County and the adjacent Butler County in Ohio. "The corn is just so weak. It's been so dry that it kind of cannibalized itself. It fed off itself to try to stay alive and it wouldn't take a whole lot to blow it down.

"That would make it a tangled mess, and that's pretty hard to harvest."

Isaac has lost strength since coming ashore late Tuesday as a Category 1 hurricane, with 80 mph winds near the mouth of the Mississippi River. But it's still expected to provide a dousing for much of the nation's midsection — from Arkansas north to Missouri and into a corner of Iowa, then east through Illinois and Indiana to Ohio — in coming days. Rainfall totals could reach up to 7 inches, according to a U.S. Drought Monitor weekly update Thursday.

In Arkansas, farmers scrambled to bring in as much of their corn and rice as they could before Isaac's wind and rain reached the state. With the storm blowing Thursday into southeast Arkansas, growers had to leave their fields and begin the wait to see what the storm will do to their crops.

Isaac's encroachment came as the latest weekly update by a drought-tracking effort credited recent rains in the central U.S. with easing the dryness, even if it was far too late for some corn crops.

The newest U.S. Drought Monitor map from the University of Nebraska's National Drought Mitigation Center showed that the section of the continental U.S. in the worst two categories of drought — extreme and exceptional — remained relatively unchanged at 23.2 percent as of Tuesday.

But thanks to rains last weekend, the amount of Iowa — the nation's biggest corn producer — in the two worst drought classifications slid by 9 percentage points to 58.3 percent. Illinois saw a 7 percentage point drop-off to 69.6 percent as Kansas' numbers fell 6 points to 90.1 percent. Missouri's status improved nominally, slipping nearly 2 percentage points to 97.4 percent. Indiana's portion in the two highest drought conditions rose, up 2.1 percentage points to 39.22 percent.

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