Flooding forces the hands of local farmers; tough decisions loom

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By Allison Shepherd

Flood waters bolstered by more than 20 inches of rain in a three week period are causing great concern for area farmers. The average rain fall per year for this area is 44 inches. Farmers in the area are now looking at options and making financial decisions, based on the fact that almost half of the year's precipitation fell in the month of April, putting planting of area crops behind schedule.
David Harrison, Uni­versity of Kentucky County Extension agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources said Monday, "Only 4 to 5 percent of the crops in the county are planted. There is more than 15,000 acres of corn, and 18,000 acres of soybeans to be planted in this county alone, and some of what has already been planted may be under water by now."
"It's just one of those years,” said LaRue County farmer George Pickerell. “I've seen this before in 1983. Usually one extreme follows another." Pickerell stated that at this point he is not making any adjustments to his crop plans. "I don't like planting corn after June 1, but I might have to. I have never had at least some acres planted in April. This is a first." Pickerell and his father Edwin farm over 1,700 acres. With crop contracts in place, seed corn in the barn, equipment setting idle, it's no wonder farmers are getting a little nervous as the rain continues to fall. "It would take a week of dry weather to get us back in the fields; doesn't look that's going to happen this week', said Pickerell.
Ryan Bivens agrees. "By May 1, I'm usually done planting corn, and as of today, I haven't gotten the first acre planted." Bivens farms over 4,400 acres of corn and soybeans, and double crop of wheat. "It's a gamble right now. I'm not changing my plans at this point either. Right now I'm concerned about the wheat crop keeping it healthy and managing the disease factor due to all the rain," said Bivens.
UK agent David Harrison said the biggest threat for wheat crops now is the fungus commonly known as "head scab.” It can reduce yields up to 50%. Bivens has been unable to get into his fields with his own equipment to spray for the potential disease. This past week he had to go to an alternative method of saving his crop. "I had a helicopter come in from Mississippi to spray 500 acres of wheat with fungicides and insecticides." The alternative method cost him an additional $5 to $6 an acre, but the gamble was worth the chance of not losing his entire crop.
"It's getting late", said Harrison. "But with a break in the weather and with the modern equipment these guys use, it don't take long to get a field planted with 30 row corn planters". The trickledown effect of the area economy is also a concern if this year's crop doesn't prove to be timely and cost effective. "We affect the banks, local fertilize and chemical businesses, we buy our fuel locally, we eat here, it's a big deal," said Bivens. The 32 year old farmer remains optimistic. "With all the technology changes and improvements we have to use, we'll be alright. The biggest challenge we face right now is that everything is going to hit at one time as late as it's getting. We will be planting corn, harvesting wheat and getting ready for beans at the same time. We're going to have some long days ahead of us", said Bivens.
Pickerell agrees.
"Old timers would say, 'plant in the dust and make the bins bust, plant in the mud, you got nothing to run,’" he said, “We'll be ok. You can't raise anything without water. It gets on your nerves when you can't get to do what you need to do, but we're blessed. Nothing here that we are facing compares to the destruction in Alabama."
"A farmer has to have faith or it'll drive you crazy," Edwin Pickerell said. "We don't know the outcome, but we'll be OK."