Rain Brings Relief For Parched Crops In Kentucky But Drought Persists

Associated Press Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - For western Kentucky grain farmer Bill Clift, last week's soaking rains came just in time for his drought-stressed corn crop.

"We were a week or maybe 10 days at the most away from a complete disaster," Clift said by phone Monday. "Prospects look a lot better now that it's rained."

Clift's parched fields in Caldwell, Crittenden and Lyon counties got about 2 inches of rain, breaking a dry spell that settled in since mid-May.

Farmers elsewhere in Kentucky also benefited from rains that could prop up yields in the autumn and possibly rejuvenate stagnant pastureland and hay fields to feed hungry cattle.

Rainfall across Kentucky was normal or above normal last week, said Tom Priddy, a University of Kentucky extension agricultural meteorologist.

It was a welcome reprieve for farmers contending with a challenging growing year featuring a late-spring freeze followed by prolonged drought.

"For agriculture, it was a huge boost, very timely," Priddy said of last week's rains.

Despite the precipitation, rainfall levels remain well below normal.

There was enough rain, however, to lift western Kentucky out of a severe drought and into the moderate category, Priddy said. The eastern half of Kentucky remains in severe drought.

Still, the state's crops showed signs of improvement in the last week thanks to the precipitation, according to a crop-reporting service.

Sixty percent of the corn crop was rated either good or excellent in the latest weekly report issued Monday by the National Agricultural Statistics Service's Kentucky field office. The previous week, 49 percent of the corn crop was rated good or excellent.

The report Monday said 61 percent of the soybean crop was in good or excellent shape, up from 50 percent in the two categories a week earlier. Also, slightly more tobacco - a more drought-resistant crop - was considered in good or excellent condition in the latest report

Until last week, Clift worried his 1,500 acres of corn would produce yields of 50 bushels per acre or less. Some of his crop might have died if it had stayed dry for another week, he said. Last year, he had his best corn yields ever - about 180 bushels an acre.

Now, he estimated that his latest corn crop might result in yields of 120 to 130 bushels per acre, though more rain is needed - as his crop goes through crucial development stages - "to max out the yield that we have left."

Clift said he needs all the yield he squeeze out of his crops to keep ahead of sky-high production costs, due mainly to fuel and fertilizer expenses. Also, he had to replant about a third of his corn that was killed by the late-spring freeze.

In Shelby County, just east of Louisville, rainfall amounts last week ranged from an inch to 3 inches, said county agricultural extension agent Brittany Edelson. Some of the drier areas received less precipitation, she said.

Still, it was enough to raise spirits among farmers.

"Last week's rain kind of kept that little bit of hope that producers always have - the eternal optimists," she said.

The rains will be enough to stave off dismal corn yields of 70 to 80 bushels an acre, she said, but predicted yields will likely still be well off the 140- to 150-bushel county average. Whether there's any follow up rain in the next couple of weeks will be crucial in determining the outcome of the corn crop, she said.

The rain spared tobacco producers - at least for now - from irrigating their leaf, she said. It also brought some needed relief for cattlemen faced with parched pastures and hay yields that were well below normal earlier in the season. But it didn't solve their problems.

"Most of the guys are realizing at this point they're going to have to purchase hay or do some culling of their herds," she said.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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