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Kentucky farmers face paltry yields, hay shortages

Associated Press Published: July 29, 2012

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky agriculture is reeling from a summertime one-two punch of blistering heat and dry conditions, and farmers are feeling the pain from the prospects of shrinking income and inflated expenses caused by weather-related setbacks.

Corn fields are shriveled, especially in the western Kentucky grain belt where the dry spell has been worst. Poultry farmers are being hit with higher grain prices to feed birds. And pastures turned to stubble, forcing cattle producers to dip into winter hay reserves.

"It's a disaster and it's going to affect every segment of agriculture, as well as every consumer in Kentucky," state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said in a recent phone interview.

Shoppers will pay higher prices at grocery stores in coming months as drought bakes much of the nation's farmland, he said.

Though rainfall picked up across much of Kentucky in July, the dry spell was unabated in far western Kentucky.

Paducah received just over 1½ inches of rain in July through last Thursday, more than 2 inches below normal.

For the year, Paducah had just over 13 inches of precipitation, nearly 16 inches below normal, said Rachel Trevino, a National Weather Service meteorologist. A year ago, the western Kentucky city was swamped by nearly 49 inches of rain during the same period.

"We went from one extreme year to another extreme year," she said. "It's incredible."

Elsewhere, precipitation deficits are much smaller. Bowling Green is nearly 5½ inches below normal for 2012, London is 5 inches behind average, Lexington is nearly 4 inches behind and Louisville only a trace behind, said National Weather Service hydrologist Mike Callahan.

Western Kentucky grain farmers are feeling the full brunt from the dry spell. Corn yields in the western region could be down as much as 75 percent from normal, Comer said. The crop was damaged by triple-digit heat and lack of rain during pollination, and it never recovered.

Comer saw the devastation recently while inspecting a corn field near the Calloway-Marshall county line.

"We had to walk a long way out into the field before we ever got to a corn plant that actually had a cob on it," he said. "We pulled the cob off. The corn was very irregular and had about a third of the kernels on it you would expect to see."

In Graves County, corn farmers will be lucky to average 50 bushels an acre this year, a third of the typical countywide average, said Kenny Perry, the local agricultural extension agent.

"There's not a thing in the world they can do about it," Perry said. "It is what it is. We'll get what we get from the crops and hopefully the (crop) insurance will kick in to cover our input costs."

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