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Last updated: September 06. 2013 2:16PM - 30 Views

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LISA CORNWELL

Associated Press

CINCINNATI — While farmer John Hoffman hopes forecasts of more hot temperatures and extremely dry weather across Ohio the next few weeks will change, he doesn’t hold out a lot of hope for much of his corn crop. And he’s not alone.

Concerns are growing among Ohio’s farmers as abnormally dry conditions and triple-digit temperatures scorch already parched fields, stunting much of the corn and soybean crops. Sweltering temperatures near 100 or above and lack of rainfall have farmers projecting reduced yields that eventually could mean higher consumer prices. With no relief in sight, a state Drought Assessment Committee was meeting Friday to begin planning Ohio’s response in a state where food and agriculture form the top industry.

The U.S. Drought Monitor, which is based on climate indicators submitted by federal, state and local officials, shows that more of the United States is in moderate drought or worse than at any time in the monitor’s 12-year history, according to National Drought Mitigation Center officials at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The monitor this week classified a few counties in northwest Ohio under severe drought conditions and most of the state in moderate drought, with other areas abnormally dry. In a report for the week ending July 1, the U.S. Department of Agriculture rated 26 percent of Ohio’s corn crop and 30 percent of its soybeans in poor or very poor condition.

“Our corn crop is a huge concern,” said Hoffman, who raises the state’s top two crops, along with wheat, on about 2,500 acres in south-central Ohio’s Pickaway County. “Rain could still help, but much of the damage is already done.”

Hoffman currently expects about a 35 percent to 50 percent reduction in his corn yield, but says it’s too soon to say how much consumers might be affected.

Northwest Ohio farmer Mark Drewes projects about a 40 percent to 45 percent reduction in corn yield at his 7,000-acre Wood county farm. “We won’t know for sure until harvest.”

Soybeans are at a stage where farmers “could still have a good crop if we begin to get some rain over the next few weeks,” said Kirk Merritt, president of the Ohio Soybean Council.

But corn is reaching a critical point, with pollination beginning.

“If it’s dry and hot, pollination doesn’t lend itself to filling out the ear and generating the yield we want,” said Tadd Nicholson, executive director of the Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association.

Vegetable and fruit growers also have been affected, but many have had some rain or have been able to irrigate, said Matt Kleinhenz, extension vegetable specialist with Ohio State University. So far, growers have been affected more than consumers, but that could change.

As of Thursday, state officials had not declared official drought status for Ohio, according to Erica Pitchford, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

Spotty rainfall can’t be ruled out this month, but it doesn’t look like there will be major improvement any time soon, according to the National Weather Service’s Wilmington office.

State climatologist Jeffrey Rogers, a geography professor at Ohio State University, says many Ohio areas need at least 5 inches of rain to get back to normal.

“This is the worst dry spell in 10 years,” Rogers said.

But some farmers remained cautiously optimistic, even under cloudless skies.

“That’s part of the job,” Drewes said.


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