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Farmers like crop potential year after drought

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Farmer Evan Clouse, who grows corn, soybeans and wheat near Hope, hopes nothing spoils what's shaping up as a good year for all his crops over the next month.

Clouse said he's keeping an eye on the weather and searching for early signs of disease in his cornfields after a recent Purdue University Extension Service report suggested recent rains and high humidity could create more fungal and bacterial problems throughout the state.

"I think the potential for our crop this year is probably one of the best we've had," Clouse told The Republic. "We've got a good stand of corn, and the rains have been pretty timely. The next 30 days will be critical."

But Clouse isn't taking any chances. He called in an agronomy specialist to check his fields to make sure his corn crop has no serious issues. Wednesday afternoon, after the inspection, Clouse said his plants passed, but he plans to stay watchful for the rest of the growing season.

"In the next couple of weeks, we'll check again and see what it looks like," he said.

If any problems pop up, Clouse intends to use a fungicide in his cornfields, although that will cost about $30 extra per acre to spray. He has 800 acres of corn planted, meaning he'd incur a $24,000 cost.

Purdue pathologist Kiersten Wise reported this month that three sorts of diseases have started appearing in some Indiana cornfields. Among those are gray leaf spot, which is caused by a fungus; northern corn leaf blight, also caused by a fungus; and Goss' wilt, a bacterial disease that's hard to treat.

She said fungicides can treat gray leaf spot and northern corn leaf blight, while any farmers who suspect Goss' wilt should have a plant sample analyzed by a lab.

"I've heard some people say there's a risk of fungus problems that might occur from all the moisture and humid weather, but I haven't seen too much yet," Clouse said earlier this week as he headed to supper after a long day in the field. "I'll spray fungicide if I have to. We have the potential for a big crop."

Clouse said he already has harvested wheat and seen good yields there.

"Overall, everything looks real good if the next few weeks are friendly to us," he said.

The results of this year's corn and soybean harvests will be important to Bartholomew County farmers, especially after a rough 2012 when crop yields were hurt by a prolonged drought. Corn yields (bushels per acre) last year, for example, were down 55 percent compared to a strong 2009, figures show. And soybean yields were off 27.5 percent compared to 2009 — a year when the weather was kinder to farmers.

Corn and soybeans are the county's and the state's top cash crops.

In Bartholomew County alone last year, 66,000 harvested acres of corn produced 5.2 million bushels for sale, and that led to income of roughly $36.4 million for farmers, according to production and price data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's statistics service.

For soybeans, county farmers harvested 61,700 acres and sold 2.3 million bushels for just under $35 million in income last year, according to USDA estimates. Statewide, the corn and soybean crops had a combined value of $7.7 billion for 2012, the agency's data show.

Paul Hoffman, a retired factory worker who now grows close to 90 acres of corn, some wheat and 125 acres of soybeans, said his crops also are coming along fine.

"We've had adequate rainfall, and our corn in particular isn't too bad for this time of year. All in all things look pretty good," Hoffman said while working on his land in southern Bartholomew County.

Hoffman said he sees no sign of fungus or pests in his corn or bean crops, and some of his corn plants already are 8 feet tall and tasseled.

"We've never used any fungicide on our corn, but there are people who do that," the farming veteran of 55 years said.

U.S. Department of Agriculture specialists say rainstorms with high winds have bent some corn stalks in parts of Indiana, but Hoffman said his crop hasn't seen any damage from such gusts.

So far, this growing season rates far superior to last year, when a severe drought hurt many crops in Indiana and across the Midwest.

"The crops are looking good to excellent this year. We're 150 percent better than last summer," said farmer Randy Weinantz, who grows corn, soybeans and a little wheat on 1,200 acres near Edinburgh.

The latest crop condition report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service says 78 percent of corn in Indiana rates good to excellent at this stage, along with 74 percent of soybeans.

Last year, at the height of the drought, only 7 percent of corn rated that highly and just 12 percent of soybeans.

For the most part, mild weather conditions have made fieldwork possible, with six of seven days suitable for farming last week, the report said.

Sixty-two percent of the state's corn acreage had silked through Sunday, about on par with the five-year state average of 60 percent. And 56 percent of the soybean acreage is blooming compared with 54 percent for the five-year average, the report said.

The USDA report didn't try to quantify the extent of wind damage in cornfields around the state, saying that most plants partially bent by gusty winds will return to upright status as the growing season progresses.

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