Drought: 1988 All Over Again?

My Generation

As temperatures soar, Illinois corn suffers. I saw a lot of acres this week, and all were rolled tight in self-preservation.

Published on: June 28, 2012

I remember 1988 well. It was the summer my parents completely remodeled their house. We lived in a 22-foot camping trailer for four months. And the only time it rained all summer was the week they had the roof off.

So. Anybody have a roof that needs replacing? A sacrificial lamb/roof?

It's getting dire, across a lot of the state. Last week on the summer beef tour in Peoria, Marion cattleman Jeff Beasley told me it looked like a lush oasis up here, compared to his farm. He's right; I've mowed once in 6 weeks and our total rainfall for May and June has come in at 2 inches and a tenth, but that's a heck of a lot better than a lot of the state.

I traveled this week down to Nokomis, where corn was firing hard. From there, I drove across I-72 to Pittsfield and up to Liberty, where I saw corn that could be dead in another week. And beans that barely came up. Corn tasseling at barely five feet high. Randy Sims tells me he thinks he'll have 220 acres of corn that will make a crop; that's the section of his farm that’s under irrigation. He thinks the rest will be a wash and with hogs to feed, he's buying corn fast and furious.

Randy wondered how many of today's farmers remember 1988. "Beyond us old guys," he laughed. I'm not sure. I remember the stress in my parents' house. And the heat. And the worry. And my husband talks of baling load after load of hay and sending it north that summer, recalling how he wound up in "the best shape of my life."

In Edwards County, my dad baled a 36-acre field last week and got five bales. "And they weren't even big bales," he adds. With temps down there this week in the 100s, I haven't had the heart to ask about his corn.

Benton farmer and crop consultant Kelly Robertson shared photos of his corn on his blog this week, and reports corn is twisted up tighter than he's ever seen it. "Like spikes or needles," he says. He tweeted yesterday that he's hooked the disk back up, since field fires are becoming a reality and his house is circled by wheat stubble.

I remember that happening in '88, too. Lightning hit our neighbor's house and burnt part of it, and the same day, an errant fire caught our wheat field on fire, as my dad headed down the road to combine that very field. Dad hooked the disk up pretty quick, but Kelly's right; this may be the year to keep it hooked up. Just in case.