The Ogallala Aquifer may provide a lifeline for Nebraska corn farmers this year.
American farmers had high expectations for corn this year, planting 96.4 million acres, 5 percent more than the previous year. An uncharacteristically warm March in the Midwest had some farmers planting weeks earlier than usual.
Elsewhere across the Corn Belt, extreme drought conditions are threatening what had been expected to be the nation's largest corn crop in generations. High expectations of just a month ago have given way in some areas to parched and stunted fields in areas that depend on rain. Already, agricultural economists are comparing the situation with the devastating drought of 1988, when corn yields shriveled significantly. The USDA rated 56 percent of Nebraska's corn as good to excellent condition, well below the average of 80 percent for this time of year.
Corn crops are at a crucial point when high temperatures and drought could thwart pollination. That could mean a harvest of empty cobs. The weekly U.S. Drought Monitor maps have shown an ominous spread of moderate- to severe-drought through the heart of corn country, the Omaha World-Herald reports.
The driest, hottest conditions have steered clear of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and western Iowa, the nation's most prolific corn producer. In much of Nebraska, the crop is protected by irrigation from the vast underwater aquifer.
Corn prices are rising in recent days on the likelihood of a smaller crop - 30 percent in the past two weeks. That's good news, but only if you have corn to sell. Because of pivot irrigation, some of Nebraska's farmers may be in a position to benefit from those higher prices. About two-thirds of the state's corn crop is irrigated, said agricultural statistician Scott Keller of the National Agricultural Statistics Service's Lincoln field office. Strong prices could offset the added expense of running pivots. The additional energy cost is small compared to the money already spent for fertilizer and seed.
A shortage of corn will also push livestock feed prices and ethanol prices higher. That's not good news for slaughterhouses, grain elevators, food processors and other agriculture-related businesses.
But Nebraska's been under the lens of the recent heat wave. Without sufficient water to keep crops alive, our farmers would already be looking at shriveled fields. The aquifer means survival for those with access to it - one more reason to make sure it isn't threatened by pollution and other manmade threats.
Information from the Scottsbluff World Herald
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