Lack of rain leaves crops in dust
By ADAM COATES, Staff Writer
A rolling cloud of dust billowed from underneath a red Case tractor as it hummed its way across a Putnam County cornfield earlier this week.
Across the county the slender, green leaves of the corn plants are looking more like pineapple tops or clusters of spears, and the cracks in the soil seem to be growing wider with each passing day.
One look and it's easy to see -- we need rain. And soon.
Under ideal conditions, young corn needs an inch of water per week to thrive, said Fillmore area farmer Kim Ames. But rain, it has not.
Ames, who farms more than 4,000 acres of land in Putnam and Hendricks counties with his family, has measured just more than 2 inches of rain since the first of May.
The National Weather Service in Indianapolis said many areas in Central Indiana have received less than half the normal amount rainfall from mid-April to now. Most areas have received between 3 and 5 inches of rain during that time period when normally they should receive about 8 inches.
"Everybody's dry," Ames said.
But so far, he doesn't think major damage has been done and he's holding on to hope that it will rain in the next two weeks.
"Every day that goes by, it gets a little worse," he said.
Agriculture experts say that if we get significant rain in the next two weeks, we should be able to recover. If we don't, it's anyone's guess as to what will happen.
Ames remembers the drought of 1988 when corn and soybean yields were reduced by as much as 60 percent. The way things are looking, we may be in for a repeat performance.
The weather service issued its latest drought monitor on Thursday and counties directly east and south of Putnam County, to the Ohio and Kentucky state lines, have been declared in a "moderate drought."
Putnam County is only one step away, in the "abnormally dry" category, and things are projected to get worse.
High temperatures for the next several days are predicted to be in the upper 80s and low 90s, with only a slight chance of storms by the middle of next week.
Low humidity may be good for people, especially when the mercury rises into the 90s, but it can spell disaster for corn crops that thrive on high humidity, Ames explained. If the corn gets to the tasseling stage and the weather hasn't broken, yields will surely be affected.
"That's when the yields really start coming down," Ames said.
Also shrinking are the county's waterways, including Big Walnut Creek which has been reduced to a small stream in some areas.
The weather service provides a river monitor on its website www.crh.noaa. gov/ind and this includes several monitoring sites for Putnam County.
A meteorologist explained that the measuring sites are in a fixed location in the water. Monitors are located in Big Walnut Creek at Reelsville, Plum Creek at Groveland and inside Cataract Lake.
On Friday afternoon, the website indicated the water level in Big Walnut Creek at Reelsville had fallen to just more than 3 feet. Flood stage is 12 feet, according to the website.
Plum Creek at Groveland was measured at a depth of 1.4 feet on Friday with a flood stage of 4 feet.
Cataract Lake, according to the website, was said to have a lake level of 639.6 feet above sea level as of Friday afternoon. The flood stage is 704 feet above sea level.
The lack of water in central Indiana rivers and lakes has prompted warnings across the Indianapolis area, including the towns of Noblesville and Brownsburg where all lawn watering has been banned.
Surprisingly, towns across Putnam County are reporting relatively normal water levels this week and there are no usage bans in place.
Jim Nelson with the Bainbridge water utility said the town's water pumping has increased recently, which could be partly attributed to residents using more water. But he said the wells seem to be at normal levels and no problems have arisen.
Ed Phillips with the Greencastle water plant said things seem to be running smoothly for now, as did Mike Gray with Cloverdale water, Don Bain with Reelsville water and Greg Poole with Roachdale water.
Residents of Heritage Lake and Van Bibber Lake are on private wells.
For now, everyone, including farmer Ames is waiting and hoping for improvement.
"It's not that we've even been hurt so far. The pattern is what makes you worry," he said.