Local crops, gardens thirst for some rain
By Janelle Walker and Matt Brennan For The Courier-News June 13, 2012 10:16PM
Cracks in the soil display lack of moisture in a corn field along Plank Road in Burlington in western Kane County. The long term forecast indicates ongoing drought or near-drought conditions throughout the summer. | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
in the Fox Valley
KANE COUNTY (Elburn area in inches)
Month 2011 2012 Average
January 1.11 1.34 1.62
February 2.44 1.52 1.76
March 1.85 2.36 2.12
April 5.86 2.61 3.44
May 6.98 2.13 4.27
Updated: July 15, 2012 3:25PM
The good news is that there is rain in early forecasts for next week, said Kevin Birk, a meteorologist with the Weather Service in Romeoville.
The bad news, however, is that the long term forecast indicates ongoing drought or near-drought conditions, and that two to three inches of rain are needed to catch northern Illinois up to average precipitation levels.
“We might actually see some rainfall as early as next week,” Birk said. “There is a weather pattern change going on with a good system setting up across the northern U.S.”
There is a chance of showers and thunderstorms starting Sunday, but a better chance of that rain coming next week, Birk said.
“That might not break the developing drought … but it is some precipitation to help the dry conditions that we have been seeing,” he said. “It is still pretty far out so a lot can change, but there is a decent shot of some rain next week.”
But overall, the summer does not look to be pumping out a lot of precipitation, he said. “It does look like … we kind of are going to be in a drier pattern this summer.”
Forecasting rain in the summer is complicated, as much of the water comes in the form of isolated thunderstorms that may or may not produce rain in specific areas. One community might get a downpour, but one just next door may remain parched.
“There may be rain in few counties in northern Illinois and a few to the south of there might not get any rain at all,” he said.
But it is very dry. Birk ran some numbers on Wednesday that show northern Illinois, from May 10 to mid-June, has had just 30 percent of its normal precipitation.
The total official rainfall at O’Hare has measured just 1.35 inches in that time, as compared to the average of 4.44 inches.
The Rockford area is even worse, with just 23 percent of its normal rainfall in the past month, Birk added.
Elgin’s Community Garden Network will soon be asking volunteers to help monitor, and water, some of the 22 or so community gardens in the network, said director Donna Askins.
The garden network has plots all around Elgin, with the produce going to local food pantries and soup kitchens. Vegetables harvested in the morning can be on a family dinner table that night, she said.
But, not all of the gardens have easy access to water and are not always in areas where residents can just walk out to add water, she said.
“We need volunteers to take on the task of watering gardens around the city, and we will be sending out that call,” Askins said.
“A lot of volunteers have come forward, and we will be encouraging people to adopt a community garden for the purpose of watering — making sure it stays hydrated. The last thing we want is crop failure,” Askins said.
Crops need rain
It’s also been an unusual growing season for Fox Valley farmers.
The unseasonably warm, dry and sunny weather in March helped farmers get an early jump on planting.
But then the area received 3 inches less rainfall in April and 2 inches less rainfall in May than it had the year before, and the outlook for this year’s crop is in question.
“One thing for sure about corn is that it needs lots of moisture,” Kane County Farm Bureau information director Ryan Klassy said. “It’ll be important that we get more in the weeks to come.
“Mother Nature is in control, and there’s not a whole lot the farmers can do about it.”
More than half of the topsoil in the northern Illinois region is classified as short or very short on moisture, Klassy said. Those numbers are worse in central and southern Illinois.
“If we don’t get back into a pattern with some steady rainfall, it could have an effect on the crops,” he said.
Elgin resident Mike Kenyon farms about 1,700 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat, hay and oats in Kane County, and as far west as Sycamore and Genoa. At first, he was happy with the dry weather, but now it is something that will need to be monitored, he said Wednesday.
“There’s some advantages to dry,” he said. “At first, it makes the roots go deeper.”
The crops typically need a half-inch to an inch of water per week in order to be healthy, and that has not happened through the early portion of the summer, he said.
A weather scare is not the worst thing in the world, if farmers can survive it with a large crop, Kendall County Farm Bureau manager Dan Reedy said. The markets will climb in reaction to a potential shortage, making the crops more valuable.
“You can sell it higher — but you have to have it,” he said.
It could be a difficult year for the farmers who planted their soybean crop after May 1. Some farmers planted earlier this year because of the warm weather, and they have a good looking crop that has benefited from moisture. Seeds that were planted later are having problems emerging from the ground, Elburn farmer Joe White said.
“A rain would get them up and growing,” White said.
Kendall County Farm Bureau President Wes Morris said that arid weather could reduce the amount of corn that one plant is able to produce. The rainfall amounts over the next 10 weeks could go a long way in determining how much the plants produce.
The size of the ears of corn and numbers of beans in a pod could drastically be reduced, he said.
“The longer this goes, the problems will multiply,” he said.