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US Drought Photos, Brief Summary and Links, August 16, 2012

11:20 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

US Drought Monitor August 14, 2012 001

US Drought Monitor August 16, 2012 photo by Crane-Station on flickr

Link to map and summary.

The US Drought Monitor map for August 14, 2012 was published at 8:30 Am today, August 16, 2012 and is pictured above. Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina (the Southeast) have shown some improvement due to rain, with Alabama no longer experiencing exceptional drought. The Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states received enough rain that things did not get any worse, according to the map. The South and Southern Plains states Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana experienced deterioration in conditions, with “large swaths of exceptional drought” added this week in Oklahoma. Rain alleviated some of the drought in the Midwest and Northern Plains states, including “central Iowa, across northern and central Illinois and Indiana, and into western Ohio and southern Michigan,” as well as North and South Dakota. However, the summary states, ” Exceptional Drought (D4) expanded in the western and central parts of Nebraska and through central and eastern Kansas and into western and central Missouri.” In the West, extreme and exceptional drought expanded in Colorado. Idaho is also dry.

CNN published this video four days ago, nicely explaining the drought impact to the mighty Mississippi River and the shipping industry:

Updated impact to the US corn and soybean agricultural belt is summarized as follows (from drought map link above):

As of last week, 87% of the U.S. corn crop, 85% of soybeans, 63% of hay, and 72% of cattle areas were experiencing drought. Over half of the corn and soybean areas are experiencing Extreme (D3) to Exceptional (D4) Drought. This has led to both reduced yields and earlier harvests.

We live in the Ohio River Valley in Kentucky at the border where the Ohio divides Kentucky from Southern Illinois that is an area of exceptional drought. Even though people cheered at the first rain a few days ago, that first rain after a drought is kind of like water drops to a hot stove: pfssssst. We will need several soaking rains. This morning I took a walk and put water and food out for the few birds that are out. The only other animal I noticed was a lizard. He did not want to be photographed, so I took these photos:

(Note: Click to enlarge any of the flickr photos in this post)

Drought corn

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US Drought Update

10:27 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

The current US Drought Monitor map was published today, and is pictured and linked to the right.

All but four Chicago-area counties in the US state of Illinois are disaster counties. Illinois has 102 counties. In short, Illinois, and I mean the whole of this giant Midwest state, is a government-listed, aid eligible disaster area. Illinois is, in pertinent part a leading US producer of corn, soybeans and swine, with 76,000 farms covering 28 million acres amounting to nearly eighty percent of Illinois total land acreage. The Illinois Department of Agriculture summarizes:

How does agriculture benefit Illinois’ economy?

Marketing of Illinois’ agricultural commodities generates more than $9 billion annually. Corn accounts for nearly 40 percent of that total. Marketing of soybeans contributes about one-third, with the combined marketings of livestock, dairy and poultry generating about 23 percent.

Billions more dollars flow into the state’s economy from ag-related industries, such as farm machinery manufacturing, agricultural real estate, and production and sale of value-added food products. Rural Illinois benefits principally from agricultural production, while agricultural processing and manufacturing strengthen urban economies.

How are Illinois’ agricultural commodities used?

With more than 950 food manufacturing companies, Illinois is well-equipped to turn the state’s crops and livestock into food and industrial products. Food processing is the state’s number-one manufacturing activity, adding almost $13.4 billion annually to the value of Illinois’ raw agricultural commodities.

I include this information about Illinois as one way of understanding the immensity and severity of our current drought situation. This post is just an update, really, because the stories rolling in on a daily basis are each stand-alone amazing stories. There is no way to overstate this issue, and the weather predictions are consistently grim. There are only so many words I can drag from my vocabulary to describe this. I could talk about the strange stuff for a minute: there are no birds out during the days anymore. We have no clear idea how the birds are making it or where they go. Birds are very, I think, intuitive about the environment as a whole. This is bizarre but true. Before the drought hit, I spent a night on the couch downstairs and no, we weren’t arguing because we are, quite frankly, too damn old to argue with each other. Whatever. Anyway, I was on the couch and the birds all woke me with very loud chirping, in the middle of the night. They continued all through the night. Never seen anything like it, so, I called my mother. She said, and she was right, “The birds know. They know something is wrong.”

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Seasonal Farming Tasks in the Great Depression

8:00 pm in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Old Horse Drawn Corn Planter

old horse drawn corn planter by Colbyt69, creative commons, flickr.

This is a true story from the Great Depression as told by Letty Owings, age 87. It is a true account of various farming tasks during the historic drought years of the mid-1930s.

Seasonal Farming Tasks in the Great Depression

In the spring of each year, the community farmers watched the sky and talked with each other in church about when to prepare the fields for planting. For corn, the fields had to be plowed and harrowed, and then the rows were set. The implements used to plow, break up and smooth the soil and form rows were horse-drawn. After the fields were prepared for planting, corn planters were also hitched to horses. A container on the corn planter was set to click open every three feet or so, and release three kernels of corn to the soil. So far, we are talking about mechanization.

The mechanization ended after the planting of the kernels. The next task involved human hands that belonged to kids, for the most part. Once the corn plants were about two inches tall, the kids in the community crawled up and down the corn rows, inspecting each three-plant corn hill, taking visual inventory. We crawled down each row with a knife and a bucket of kernels, to see if three plants were in each cluster. Less than three plants in a hill meant that there was a cutworm in the soil, dining. We dug and chopped the worm, and replaced the eaten kernel with the new kernel. This task was called “replanting the corn,” and if you were a kid, you got that assignment. Replanting the corn was labor intensive and ritually performed every year. In church, farmers would ask each other, “Did you replant your corn yet?”
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What Drought 2012 Looks Like in Western Kentucky Corn Fields

3:26 pm in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

all photos taken on 7/24/2012 by CraneStation on flickr

US Drought Outlook (hat tip cmaukonen)
US Drought Monitor, updated frequently (hat tip Missouri Mule)

These are popcorn fields in Western Kentucky near our home. One owner, who wished to remain anonymous explained that no one in the area has crop insurance, and that everyone will likely lose the crops. Of the fields we photographed, his looked the best because they are lowland fields. The lowland corn is pictured in the first three photos. Some of the corn growers may chop the fields down for silage. As you can see in the other photos, the creek beds are very low or dry (pictured). One ear we photographed had exposed kernels that appeared unhealthy and below the usual number.

This area relies on nature for water. It is usually extremely lush with swollen creek beds full of small blue gill fish. Many of these beds are dry or very low.

The popcorn grower we spoke to also confirmed the practice among livestock farmers in the region of selling animals for slaughter due to the pressures of drought this season.

Today it was 103 F, and there is no rain in the forecast. As far as corn is concerned, many growers have given up on this year’s crop.

Drought Stressed Corn 005

Lowland popcorn ear, showing less than normal number of kernels, click to enlarge.
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US Continental Drought 2012

1:17 pm in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

USCorninDrought

photo by USDAgov on flickr

This morning, we rode by several drought-stressed cornfields where we live, in Western Kentucky, and lamented that the farmers will likely lose their entire crops. In many cases, entire patches in any given field have plants that simply never grew at all. Also, the Mississippi River has sunk to near-historic lows, and towed barge groundings are up, complicating shipping on the river.

I have a family member in Indiana who reports the same observations about corn fields. She has horses, and there is no hay, because there is nothing to harvest this year. Also, she was riding in the light of day, and two coyotes tried to attack her horse while she was on it. The coyotes have twice bitten her horses previously. In order for coyotes to attempt to down such a large animal, they are hungry. They are hungry because there are not enough rodents in the fields for the coyotes to eat. These animals are also drought-stressed.

In Texas, cattle ranchers and farmers are selling animals for slaughter by the millions because they cannot afford to feed them; there is not enough food.

On July 16, 2012, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Climatic Data Center released a State of the Climate update on the US national drought.

We are currently experiencing the worst drought in my lifetime- the worst drought since the 1950s- and a widespread natural disaster.

Based on the Palmer Drought Index, a moisture supply versus moisture demand calculation, and according to the report, about 56 percent of the US was experiencing moderate to exceptional drought by the end of June, 2012.

The US Drought Monitor Map as of July 5, 2012. with the summary:

By the end of the month, the core drought areas in the U.S. included:

a large area of moderate (D1) to exceptional (D4) drought in the Southeast;

moderate to extreme (D3) drought in the Southern Plains spreading into the Southwest;

moderate to extreme drought in the Southwest to Intermountain Basin, with moderate to severe (D2) drought stretching to the West Coast, and into the Pacific Northwest and pockets of exceptional drought in Colorado;

pockets of moderate to severe drought lingering in the Mid-Atlantic states, with abnormally dry areas in the Northeast states;

moderate to extreme drought across much of the Midwest and Central to Northern Plains, with pockets of exceptional drought in the High Plains of Colorado; and
parts of Hawaii, where moderate to extreme drought persisted.

Highlights from the report:

June 2012 was the 14th warmest and the 3rd driest by measure, on record, since data collection began in 1895. Warmer temperatures accompanied the dry conditions, and Colorado, for example, experienced the warmest June on record.

Two states (Colorado and Kansas) had the warmest April-June, 25 more were in the top ten warmest category, and 19 more ranked in the warmest third of the historical distribution. Twenty-eight states were record warm for January-June 2012 and 26 were record warm for July 2011-June 2012. The rest of the Lower 48 States fell in the top ten warmest or warmest third categories — except Washington and Oregon for January-June and Washington for July-June.

Wyoming statewide Palmer Z Index, April-June, 1895-2012.
As noted earlier, excessive heat increases evapotranspiration and exacerbates drought. The combination of third driest and fifth warmest April-June gave Wyoming the most severe April-June averaged Palmer Z Index in the 1895-2012 record.

The corn and soybean agricultural belt has been hit especially hard by this drought, the report explains.

“Everything’s hungry.”

This Indiana corn farmer takes us through his dried up corn farm, and explains some of the problems related to the 2012 drought: