Clark, Champaign counties among hardest hit in drought

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Clark and Champaign counties are among the hardest hit areas in the region by a drought that many farmers say has heightened concerns of smaller crops and lower yields.

The region is about three inches below typical rainfall for this time of year and rain expected in the next few days likely won’t bring much relief, said Brett Collar, Storm Center 7 meteorologist.

When there has been rain, area farmers said it’s come in torrents that last only a short time and do little to provide relief to crops.

“We could have some coming in the next few days, but it’s not going to be a substantial, good soaking rain that we need,” Collar said. “At this point, what we need is two days of light to moderate rain consistently falling.”

Champaign County has received about half its normal rainfall for this time of year, said Amanda Douridas, extension educator for OSU Extension in Champaign County.

“If we get some rain over the next few weeks, it will help a little bit but it’s going to really affect their crop yield,” Douridas said.

The region typically gets around 8 inches of rainfall in June and July, but she said the most any area of the county has seen is about 4 inches so far.

“That being the top end, you can imagine people who have missed those rains or seen even less,” Douridas said.

Clark County farmers face similar issues, said Brian Harbage, who raises corn, soybeans and hay near Springfield and South Charleston. The real concern, he said, is that the problem has potential to become more severe.

“We’ve been in this for a year or better and it’s just getting worse slowly,” Harbage said. “When you think of drought, you think it hits all at once and it just never rains for three months. But we’ve just continually depleted our reserves in the subsoil. It’s got real potential to get more severe because it has not replenished.”

So far he said, farmers in the region have been relatively lucky.

“We keep getting rains to suffice for the short term, but we really have not had the ability to build our reserves up,” Harbage said of the corn and soybean crops. “They have gotten stressed out and then just about the time it’s really getting crucial, we catch something that gives them a little reprieve. I think our yields are going to be somewhat less than our expectations but as a whole I think they’re going to still be fair.”

In Champaign County, Bob Folck grows produce including strawberries, blackberries and pumpkins on a small farm near Mechanicsburg. He uses a drip irrigation system for much of his fields but said he’s using more than twice as much water as in a normal year to keep his plants healthy.

In a normal year he might water his crops once a week or even every other week, but this year he will likely water every day for 24 hours.

“It’s that serious and it’s that dry,” Folck said.

Sharon and Chris Stevens operate Stevens Bakery and Orchard in Clark County, and have seen the drought affect both their orchard and farm crops. They’ve seen apples fall from trees much earlier than usual and the soybeans they planted are in worse shape.

“The soybeans are dying from lack of water,” Sharon Stevens said. “They’re not fully grown and mature and they’re just dying. It will be a very minimal crop if any.”

The orchard has 600 new apple trees this year and her husband has been hauling water from a tank on the property twice a week.

“It’s an all day job to get that done and you pray it’s making an impact and helping and at least keeping the young trees alive,” Sharon Stevens said.

Unfortunately, the coming days likely won’t bring needed relief, Collar said.

“What we’re going to see over the coming days is most of the day being dry, but within that day in the afternoon and early evening there will be a couple of hours that will see pop-up showers and thunderstorms,” Collar said. “With those, we will see rain, but it’s going to be a heavy, quick downpour, and that’s not what we need.”

Staff Writer Will Garbe contributed to this report.