LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky's corn crop took a sharp turn for the worse during last week's record-breaking heat, leaving nearly half of it wilting in poor condition while a drought lingers in some key producing areas.
Farmers planted the state's largest corn crop in more than a quarter-century this spring, hoping to capitalize on high grain prices. But brutal weather conditions are setting up many grain farmers for disappointment at harvest time.
Some parched fields got a reprieve Sunday and Monday when storms brought badly needed rainfall to parts of Kentucky. But many other producers weren't so lucky, especially in the far western grain belt where the drought is most severe.
In Caldwell County, where thunder and lightning produced no rain on Monday, the heat and drought have already sapped corn and soybeans of at least half the area's normal yields, said Shane Bogle, the local agricultural extension agent.
"It's worse than I've ever seen," he said Tuesday.
Triple-digit heat that baked Kentucky last week came during a crucial development stage for corn.
"Everything that was pollinating in this last week, it's just turning black," Bogle said.
A weekly crop report issued Monday said 29 percent of the statewide corn crop is in poor condition and 19 percent is very poor. Another 32 percent of the crop is fair, 19 percent good and 1 percent excellent.
The amount of corn rated good to excellent tumbled by 19 percent in just one week, according to the report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service's field office in Kentucky.
Kentucky farmers planted 1.6 million acres of corn this year, up 16 percent from last year. It's the state's largest corn acreage since 1986.
Meanwhile, 40 percent of Kentucky's soybean crop was rated poor or very poor, the crop report said. Another 36 percent was rated fair, 23 percent good and 1 percent excellent, it said.
Kentucky's soybean crop is estimated at 1.4 million acres, down 6 percent from 2011.
The state's tobacco crop is faring somewhat better. It is rated 37 percent fair, 30 percent good, 20 percent poor, 9 percent very poor and 4 percent excellent.
In Daviess County, some farmers benefited from Monday rainfall that might save their crops, said Clint Hardy, the county's ag extension agent. But other fields in the western Kentucky county missed out on the soaking, he said.
Even with the rain, most area farmers are hoping at best to break even on this year's crop, Hardy said. He estimated that corn and soybean yields already are 25 percent off normal production.
"We've got corn right now that has basically prematurely died," he said. "Some of it did pollinate and has an ear. But it doesn't have any grain on it."
Meanwhile, pastures also are suffering from the intense heat and drought. Sixty-four percent of Kentucky pastureland is rated poor or very poor, the crop report said. Another 26 percent is fair, 9 percent good and 1 percent excellent.
Bogle said some Caldwell County farmers will try to salvage something from their corn by turning it into feed for cattle. Some cattlemen in the area have been dipping into winter hay reserves for a month or so to feed their herds, he said.
"I've never seen anything like it," Bogle said.