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Indiana's corn crop faces stress from heat, drought

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Indiana's recent hot, dry weather is taking a toll on the state's young corn crop that many farmers planted early because of the early spring.

Much of the state has seen little rain in recent weeks, with the National Weather Service recording less than an inch of rain in Fort Wayne area during May and just less than 2 inches in Evansville for the month.

Purdue Extension agronomist Bob Nielsen said the U.S. Drought Monitor shows Indiana is beginning to experience abnormally dry weather that can damage young corn plants.

"There is concern that we may be in the beginning stages of a drought," Nielsen told the Journal & Courier. "We need some good rain to restore the moisture and ideally avoid the excessive heat we had over the weekend."

Nielsen said the combination of dry soil and 90-degree temperatures in the past week can be extremely stressful to young corn plants because they need enough soil moisture to develop their root systems.

Much of the state is far below normal in rainfall for the year. The Indianapolis area is about 2 inches below normal for 2012, but Evansville is 8.8 inches behind and Fort Wayne more than 4 inches below.

Despite the dryness, there still is time for the crops to produce a promising yield, especially if this weekend's rain forecast becomes a trend for the next several weeks, said Christopher Hurt, a Purdue agricultural economist.

"If you have dry conditions, earlier (in the season) is better than later," Hurt said. "But there is a point at which day after day of stress is going to do some permanent damage."

If other Midwestern states experience more rain and increased crop yields, farmers in drought areas could see decreased prices on top of lost yields.

"That is the worst possible situation — if you're in one of those isolated areas," Hurt said.

Some good news for farmers is that because many planted corn as early as March this year, there is a better chance of corn beating the dry conditions, Hurt said. Younger crops may not be as lucky because their roots aren't as deep.

Perry Martin, who has farmed 200 acres near Lafayette for nearly 40 years, said all he can do is sit and wait.

"This is pretty bad, but it doesn't do any good to worry," Martin said.

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