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Dry conditions worry state's farmers
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An ear of corn affected by the month-long dry spell. Farmer Jeff Redalen says his family has already lost close to $20,000 from this summer's dry conditions. (MPR Photo/Rob Schmitz)
Most areas of the state have not received a heavy rain since the July 4th weekend. The hot and dry weather since then has led to a sharp decline in the state's crop conditions. Farmers are losing money with each day it doesn't rain.

Fountain, Minn. — Jeff Redalen and his fellow farmers have their eyes to the sky looking for what he's calling the "million dollar rain." After weeks of clear skies and warm temperatures, they need enough precipitation to prevent what could be a statewide drought. Redalen says a good rain at this stage in the season could save farmers millions of dollars in losses. Redalen's family grows over 500 acres of corn in the southeastern town of Fountain. A portion of the crop is starting to die, its brown color spreading over the fields each day.

"We've found stalks of corn that are brown, look like they would a week before you'd harvest them," says Redalen.

But harvest time isn't until October.

Redalen opens an ear of corn from a damaged plant. It's leaves are brown and curled up. The ear reveals only a third of the kernels its supposed to have. The kernels are also very small and dented, indicating the plant can't support the ear anymore. It's shutting down for the season. For Redalen, more acres of corn like this one could mean a drastic reduction from his family's average of 140 bushels of corn per acre.

"If the whole field looked like this, I would guess this corn would yield 60 or 70 bushels an acre. But, if we don't have rain soon, the whole field is going to look like this," he says.

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Image Fountain farmer Jeff Redalen stands in front of his family's damaged corn.

As it stands, Redalen estimates his family is looking at a 20 to 30 bushel per acre reduction from an average year's yield. That adds up a loss of over $20,000. Redalen's brother Gary says the dry conditions have also taken a toll on his livestock. He says he's already started weening his 200 calves early to make up for the dry pastures.

"On two pastures, we're starting to supplement with hay, so we're feeding our winter hay supply in August," says Redalen.

According to Minnesota Department of Agriculture State Specialist Warren Pommier, farmers across the state are dealing with similar conditions. Pommier says one farmer who recently called him reports losing five percent of this year's yield each day it doesn't rain. Pommier says the problem compounds rapidly.

"If you don't get a rain tomorrow, you're losing five percent of your remaining yield. Then if you don't get rain the next day, you lose five percent of the remaining yield. So each day that percent that he was estimating at five percent goes up to six, seven, eight percent, until you get a week from now with no rain, and you're going to find very poor soybean yields and very poor corn yields," says Pommier.

Pommier says the state can ask for a presidential disaster declaration if it's lost more than 30 percent of one crop from the lack of rain. He says his office won't know if the state's farmers are eligilble until after the harvest in October. Pommier says a shortage of corn and soybeans could drive prices up, leaving farmers in a predicament not seen since the late 1980s.

"If they don't get a rain in the next couple of weeks, this will be like the '88 drought. That was the last really bad one that nailed us right across," says Pommier.

Pommier says he hopes the rain predicted for this week will actually come, preventing the need for the state's farmers to again start uttering what he calls the 'd' word.

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