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Rain aids Indiana soybeans, but Isaac worries farmers

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Indiana's drought-stressed soybean crop has gotten a late-season boost from recent rainfall, which should lessen the financial impact of the state's worst drought in decades by increasing yields in many fields, a Purdue University farm expert said Wednesday.

August's rainfall is expected to lift Indiana's average soybean yield to 39 bushels per acre, or two bushels higher than what the federal government projected on Aug. 10, said Purdue agricultural economist Chris Hurt. Although those yields would still be significantly less than Indiana's 20-year average soybean yield, he said farmers hard-hit by the drought are eager to get as much as they can out of their crops.

"Soybeans are sometimes called the miracle crop — they really can recover, and every little bit will help," Hurt said.

While additional rain could further ratchet up soybean yields, Indiana farmers will be watching closely this weekend as the remnants of Hurricane Isaac sweep across the state.

If that system drops several inches of rain in a short period and brings gusty winds, some corn plants weakened by the drought could topple or lean over, creating complications for the fall harvest, Hurt said. A deluge would also leave the state's fields muddy and crops at greater risk of plant diseases.

"If that happens, we're probably talking about moving fields from drought into mud," he said.

Mark Dahmer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Indianapolis, said Wednesday that Isaac's remnants are expected to reach the state Friday night and linger over the weekend.

He said rainfall amounts will likely be between two and three inches, with isolated amounts of four to five inches or higher. Winds should be only about 15 mph, with gusts probably up to 25 mph, but the storm's likely impact won't become clearer until Thursday, Dahmer said.

Morgan County grain farmer Jeff Thomas said Wednesday that he and other farmers are concerned that Isaac's remnants could deliver too much rain too late in the growing season and create long-lasting flooding.

"Everybody's really starting to worry. If we get all this water they're talking about, we'll have to deal with flooding, especially in fields along rivers. The rivers just can't hold all of that water," he said.

Thomas, 52, said August's rainfall has so far helped some of the late-planted soybeans among the 4,600 acres of corn and soybeans he farms near Paragon, about 35 miles south of Indianapolis.

Nonetheless, Thomas expects to get yields from only about half of his soybeans fields and a third of his corn acreage because so many of his fields succumbed during the drought's peak. He's hoping his surviving soybeans continue to improve.

"I'll be honest, if my whole farm averages 25 bushels for soybeans, I'll be tickled to death," he said.

Hurt said northern Indiana has benefited the most from August's rains, but relief has reached parts of southern Indiana in recent weeks.

The rain came too late to help the state's corn crop, however. Corn's crucial and short pollination stage occurs in July, but the extreme drought and sweltering heat dramatically cut the crop's yield potential by reducing the seeds on corn ears, Hurt said.

The federal government's Aug. 10 crop forecast called for Indiana to see an average yield of 100 bushels an acre, or about 40 percent less than the state's 20-year average of 165 bushels per acre.

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