$16,000 to produce one inch of rain? | News
ZEELAND (WZZM) - A West Michigan forecast with no rain for almost another week is the last thing farmers want to hear.
Vegetable crops need it badly, especially corn, because farmers have only gotten decent rainfalls three times in the last two months.
That's according to state climatologist and MSU Professor of Atmosperic Sciences Jeff Andresen. He says much of southwest Michigan is 50 percent below normal rainfall this year; that's up to five inches in some areas.
"We haven't had near the amount of precipitation, so that puts you up somewhere on the order of 1 1/2 to two inches every week that the plant could use," he said.
"This afternoon when you get the heat, they'll shrivel right up," said Carl Moll. Moll keeps a close eye on every ear of corn in a field near Zeeland. He runs the irrigation system for Boersen Farms and has been quite busy this summer.
"This will run 35 hours to make one revolution, to produce one inch of rain," he said of an irrigation rig. And he's only referring to one 40-acre field.
According to MSU Senior District Farm Extension Management Educator Roger Betz, a full-time West Michigan corn producer has 1,000 acres and could spend anywhere between $5,000 to $7,000 a week just to operate their irrigation system. Overhead costs add in another $9,000 a week, bringing the bill northwards of $16,000 for that one inch of water Mother Nature can't spare.
But Moll says some producers simply can't afford to irrigate every ear. He estimates his farmer is only watering 25 percent of his fields.
"They have fields without water that the fields are going to be hurting bad. Probably two weeks, and crops are going to be shot."
A few miles down the road, the Visser Farm is hard at work planting beans, peas, and other vegetables, and already, irrigation costs are up about 40 percent this summer. But owner Phil Visser wishes he installed the drip irrigation system earlier. His summer crew is now playing catch up.
"We're quite concerned how dry it is, due to the fact we have to plant every week and without irrigating you can't plant," he said.
So when is the last time these farmers have experienced a hot/dry spell?
"We're concerned, the year is similiar to 1988," said Visser.
"Eighty-eight had a terrible dry spell that dried all the crops up," said Moll.
"A lot of the characteristics, the heat, the winter was similiar," said Visser.
Andresen says their memory serves them well.
"The key is we had an unusually dry winter and conditions just continued on into the spring."
But farmers this year started their growing season with a little more water in the soil. They just hope to finish with more.
"We kust keep praying that rain's coming," said Moll.
The really trying time for corn growers starts in two weeks. That's the crucial pollination period where water is absolutely necessary. Farmers say the other big field crops, like wheat and soybeans, can handle the dry weather.
As for fruit crops, Kent County MSU Extension Fruit Educator Amy Irish-Brown says strawberries and bluberries should be in the clear, because their season is almost over. She says so far, they're harvesting well.