Rain projected to spare region from long-ranging drought impact
By MARK FAHEY
Ohio will continue to be spared the devastating drought conditions that have persisted since the summer in large parts of the country, according to a new Seasonal Drought Outlook release.
Most of the western half of the United States is still experiencing a severe drought, but Ohio has been protected by bursts of moisture entering the Ohio Valley from the Gulf of Mexico, said Brian Coniglio, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Wilmington.
“Right now we’re probably going to be okay until the spring,” said Coniglio. “Based on rainfall, we’ve been pretty close to normal the last couple months. By the end of the summer, something could develop, so we’re going to have to monitor it through the summer and see how it goes. If we get normal rainfall we should be okay.”
The large-scale drought has been affecting the country’s western states since 2010, and is projected to continue into this summer. Ohio suffered similar water shortages in 2012, but has returned to normal precipitation levels.
Although no improvements are expected for large parts of the West past the Mississippi River, parts of the Midwest and southeastern states struck by the drought may see some additional rainfall in the coming months. Increased rainfall and snowfall in those areas led to slightly better conditions last week, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
The drought reduced agricultural yields across the country in 2012 and drove up prices for crops and other related commodities, such as beef. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the overall U.S. corn yield was stunted by 13 percent in 2012 compared to the year before, but Ohio received rain in the fall that reduced the damage to the state’s crops, said Erica Pitchford Hawkins, communication director for the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
“If you had asked last July what kind of crop yield it was going to be, we were not optimistic at all,” said Hawkins. “We got lucky that we started getting some rain in October, that helped quite a bit.”
The timing of rainfall in Ohio revived the soybean yield more than it helped corn crops, which need water in June and July when the state was facing the driest conditions, said Hawkins.
Ohio’s soybean production was down about 5 percent from 2011 while corn production was down 12 percent, said Adam Shepard, extension educator for agriculture and natural resources at the Ohio State University Extension in Fayette County.
Although there was some drought-related damage to local crops, the extreme drought conditions in other parts of the country increased the value of the crops that did survive.
“Commodity pricing for this area remained strong as areas to the west and south suffered more severe effects of the drought,” said Shepard. “Although crop yields in the area were lower than we would have liked, favorable prices at the grain elevators helped producers survive the effects of the drought.”
The reduced impact of the drought in Ohio and the market changes caused by having widespread dry conditions helped many local farmers report a successful growing season despite some damage to crops, said Shepard.
“Rain and snowfall over the winter periods helped to replenish soil moisture, but depending on the location soils may still be slightly below optimum moisture levels,” he said.
Shepard said that technological advances could reduce the risk that droughts pose to crops in the future, and several companies are working towards producing new seeds that operate more efficiently and function better in dry weather. The drought can also teach farmers how to prevent losing crops to dry weather in the future.
“One thing we also noticed from harvest last year was the advantage to reducing risk by varying planting date,” said Shepard. “Corn planted earlier in the season had more exposure during critical growth stages than the corn planted later in the season. Spreading out planting dates, rotating crops, careful hybrid selection, and selecting multiple hybrids or varieties will help growers spread risk.”
Hydrologist Jim Noel of the Wilmington National Weather Service center and Corn Growers Executive Director Tadd Nicholson will speak at the event, which will also give participants an update on how agriculture-related legislation is proceeding at the state and federal levels. A free meal will be provided and non-members are welcome to attend.