JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — In the four decades Mary Beth Lieb has been farming with her husband, Ralph, she has seen dry times and wet times, and she has learned one thing: You have to roll with the punches.
“You can’t change Mother Nature,” Lieb said.
A prolonged heat wave, where temperatures have reached levels not seen since the dust bowl days of the 1930s, leaves farmers across the Midwest hoping they can salvage at least part of their summer corn crop.
Depending on when the corn was planted in the spring, some is tall and going into tassel while later plantings are struggling to meet the old adage of being “knee-high by the Fourth of July,” Tom Ford, Penn State Extension horticulture educator, said.
“In some valleys, the corn is beautiful. But on the other end of that valley it looks like a pineapple,” Ford said. “It all depends on who got the showers.”
Farmers keep looking to the skies hoping for some long overdue precipitation.
Rainfall in May was relatively normal, Charles Ross, a meteorologist and hydrologist with the National Weather Service in State College, Pa., said. But June was a different story.
“Over the past month, it’s been pretty dry, about one-half of the rainfall we normally have,” Ross said.
Adding to the concern is the extremely high temperatures that lead to significant moisture evaporation.
“Every day it goes by without rain we’re seeing more drought stress. The soybeans have quit growing. They’re waiting for rain,” he said.
While corn planted early because of the warm spring is shoulder high, it is starting to tassel up at a time when it needs moisture the most.
“For some of the corn crop we’re at a critical time for rainfall,” Ford said. “We need rain now so the ears will fill out.”
Alfalfa growth is stunted by the lack of rain and even “plain old hay” is not growing, said Harold Shaulis, a Milford Township farmer.
“The soybeans are sitting there and, with any rainfall, they probably will be fine,” Ford said. “As for the corn, we’re not super critical yet. But we’re getting there.”
Details for this story were provided by The Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, Pa.