Ohio is among 29 states with counties now designated as natural disaster areas due to the drought.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said conditions are the worst they’ve been since the country’s last widespread and significant drought in 1988. More than 1,000 counties nationwide have been named by the U.S. Drought Monitor as being in severe drought for eight consecutive weeks during the growing season. “Butler County is in a moderate drought on the verge of severe,” said Mike Kurz, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington.
While parts of Warren County are in a moderate drought, most of the county is just considered abnormally dry, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The extreme weather conditions are driving up food prices in some areas. The season average farm price for corn in 2012-13 is projected at $5.40 to $6.40 per bushel — an increase from the $4.20 to $5 per bushel projected in June.
As of July 12, 36 percent of Ohio’s corn and soybeans are rated in poor or very poor condition, according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture. The crops are salvageable if the state gets a reasonable amount of rain, said department spokeswoman Erica Pitchford.
“We don’t like what we see out there,” Pitchford said. “We are not in declared drought emergency at this time, but it’s not off the table.” NWS Hydrologist Jim Noel said drought conditions will worsen before any improvements are seen. The weather service has forecasted weekend rainfall between a half-inch and three-quarters inch. “Usually we think of severe weather as fast-happening weather events,” Noel said. “A drought takes months to get into and months to get out of.” Normal rainfall during the summer is four inches per month, Noel said. The weather service recorded 1.94 inches of rain for the Cincinnati region in June and just 0.15 inches of rain have fallen in July.
Noel said in the past month, Butler County has only received 20-50 percent of normal rainfall. “The trend of below average rain will continue through the end of July, if not into August,” Kurz said. In 2011, the region experienced record-breaking rainfall with more than 70 inches, which is well above a normal year of about 40 inches. “2011 was the wettest year ever and Mother Nature is basically trying to balance that out by becoming dry,” Noel said. Noel said the region would need an additional four to five inches of rain above normal rainfall in order to end the drought. “The ground hasn’t had much moisture in it this summer because of a mild winter and spring,” Kurz said.
On July 11, the USDA lowered the estimated corn yield by 20 bushels per acre, from 166 to 146, and blamed “scarce rainfall coupled with record-breaking temperatures.” Lower soybean yields also were predicted.
Cindy Meyer, Butler County extension educator, said it’s hard to estimate how hard crop yields will be hit this fall. She said farmers are keeping a close eye on crops — which ideally would receive one inch of rain per week. “That’s our food system that is directly hit,” Meyer said. “We’re not all directly hit, but indirectly with our pocketbooks.”
Dan Martin, a corn and soybean farmer in Butler County, said his crops are being hit hard by the heat and lack of water.“The crops are stressed and dying; we’re desperate for a rain,” Martin said.Martin said the corn planted in gravel ground has burnt up and died. However, the corn and soybeans he planted in heavier soil is “holding on.” Martin said he won’t harvest the corn until September and October and he is preparing for a smaller yield this year. “You can’t fight Mother Nature,” Martin said. “Until I see (the rain) hit the ground I won’t believe (the forecast).”
Noel said if the current drought persists into a long-term drought — lasting more than 12 months — impacts could go beyond agriculture and into drinking water supply, fire damage, reservoirs and navigation.
“By far the biggest impact is on farmers,” Noel said. “Into August and September, the risk of fire damage increases.” Helping to manage the region’s water supply, Tim McLelland, manager of the Groundwater Consortium, said the water level of the Miami Valley Buried Valley Aquifer hasn’t been impacted yet by the drought. He said ground water levels are within normal seasonal patterns.
McLelland said any potential impacts from the drought would be felt in four to six months, if current conditions continue. “We haven’t had to take measures yet but we’re monitoring areas in the region we think could be affected,” McLelland said.