HENDERSON — Western Kentucky farmers are bracing for a grim year as a drought in the area worsens.
The Gleaner reports that officials say the drought has been upgraded from "severe" to "extreme."
Henderson County Extension Agent Mike Smith said Monday that means farmers could see losses of up to 40 percent in the fields, meaning they might make enough to pay expenses but will make little or no profit.
He said it's a grim development after many farmers planted crops weeks early because of warmer-than-normal conditions. Many hoped that springs rains would provide nourishment before the hot, dry summer arrived.
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Instead, it's been a hot, dry spring — with no relief in sight.
Henderson has gotten less than an inch of rain during the past four weeks, according to the University of Kentucky Agricultural Weather Center. The area has gotten 4.27 inches since April 1 — far from the nearly 11 inches of rain that normally falls.
"We haven't had a uniform rain in two or three months," Smith said, though isolated showers have hit some areas.
The USDA's Kentucky Agricultural Statistics Service showed 50 percent of corn and soybean crops were rated fair, poor or very poor as of Sunday.
"All you've got to do is look at the pollination taking place in cornfields and (see) how uneven it is," Smith said.
"The tassels that have been shooting out, you can see out across a field where a lot are not shooting out," he said. "We rely on pollination for grain fill" to cover the ear of the corn with kernels.
"It is critical that we get good pollination" to assure a good yield, Smith said.
"And there are other circumstances: 25-mile-per-hour winds, 91-degree temperatures, humidity knocking around at 40 to 50 percent. You couldn't get much worse pollination weather," he said. "It dries the silks" that capture pollen. "We're getting hurt every day," Smith said.