Stress of drier than average July beginning to show on crops

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Thursday, July 22, 2010
— The leaves of young corn plants are starting to curl.

By evening, zucchini plants droop in the field.

“Even the bees don’t like the heat,” said Mary Ann Pearce of Walworth Township.

Pearce and her husband, Bob, own Pearce’s Market between Fontana and Williams Bay.

Aside from a very few fields that get irrigated, it’s been three weeks since the Pearces’ crops have gotten a good drink, Pearce said.

Today could be the day.

The National Weather Service predicts an 80 percent chance of thunderstorms this afternoon and a 50 percent chance of storms overnight.

The storms could produce up to an inch of precipitation.

It will be more than welcome, Pearce said.

The Pearces grow grain crops as well as produce such as tomatoes, zucchini, sunflowers and basil to sell at their market near the corner of Highway 67 and County F.

The vine crops, such as zucchini and pumpkins, are suffering the most, Pearce said. Pumpkins are maturing early, she said.

By the end of a hot day, zucchini plants “lay down” in the fields, she said.

Sweet corn is faring better. But without rain, the ears could develop dry tips. That’s a turn off for the browsing, husk-peeling produce shopper, Pearce said.

The dry July is especially remarkable after a very wet June.

As of Tuesday, a half-inch of rain has fallen in Janesville this month, according to Gazette records. The average July rainfall is 3.9 inches. June’s rainfall was 2 inches above average at 6.2 inches.

Since April, Janesville has gotten 14.6 inches of rain, according to Gazette records. That’s just shy of the 15 inches that’s the average total for April, May, June and July.

So, crops aren’t suffering drastically, said Walworth County Farm Bureau President Terry Papke.

Papke owns a dairy farm in LaFayette Township north of Elkhorn. He grows corn, soybeans, alfalfa and wheat to feed his cows and to sell.

Papke was in a field chopping hay Wednesday when he talked to the Gazette. Despite the last few dry, hot weeks, things are looking fine in many fields, he said.

The corn crop got off to an early, excellent start, Papke said. By the Fourth of July, it was “looking as good as it ever has.” he said.

High-quality soil holds water well, so good fields still have moisture from the heavy June rains, Papke said.

Crops planted on hills are starting to show signs of stress, he said.

So are young corn plants, Pearce said.

“With the excesses amount of heat, crops are using a lot of it (water) right now,” Papke said. “Corn is putting an ear on, so it’s a good time for it to have a lot of moisture.”

Rain would be welcome, but Papke’s not holding his breath.

“We’ve heard that story before,” Papke said about the rainy forecast.

Even meteorologists feel that way sometimes, said Ashley Sears, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sullivan.

The service has predicted a slight chance of rain several times in the last week. A forecast of a 20 percent chance of rain is typical in mid-summer heat, she said.

But those rainfalls can be spotty.

Rain fell north and east of Rock and Walworth counties this week, Sears said. Storms have commonly been very isolated, so rain falls in one spot and leaves another dry, she said.

“It’s just the way it goes,” Sears said. “It’s just the way the lows move through and how the weather patterns are.

“Definitely, we’re looking for rain in the entire area Thursday.”

Last updated: 2:18 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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