May 17, 2001 | By: Laura Skillman

April was a good month for allowing farmers many days to plant crops without a rain delay, but those dry days are starting to be worrisome as we reach mid-May and the state continues in a drought.

Richard Strode, who farms in Daviess and Henderson counties, said the dry conditions have impacted his planting. Corn fields have a good stand, he said, but soybeans are having some emergence problems. Because of that, he discontinued planting beans two weeks ago.

On Wednesday, Strode was back in one field planting beans after he had irrigated it. He's also irrigated his tobacco fields prior to planting.

"I've never had to water the ground before planting," he said.

While rains in the past week have helped soil moisture in some areas, other parts of the state remain dry.

Last week's rains provided relief to the central and bluegrass areas agricultural moisture problems and central Kentucky's hydrologic drought, according to the University of Kentucky's s Agricultural Weather Center. The central area of the state improved and rejoined the east in a moderate hydrologic drought with 7.85 inches and 5.50 inches of above normal rainfall needed to completely end the hydrologic drought in those locations.

West and bluegrass areas remained in severe hydrologic drought and needed 9.07 inches and 8.04 inches above normal to climb back into normal conditions. The crop moisture index showed slight improvement in soil moisture in the central and bluegrass areas, moving those areas into the "moisture adequate for present needs" category. West and east Kentucky's CMI is topsoil moisture short...germination slow for agricultural purposes.

Moisture conservation practices such as no-till planting are helping to retain soil moisture in some fields and improving seed germination. Lack of moisture can mean delayed or less germination resulting in uneven plant stands, said James Herbek, University of Kentucky Extension grains specialist.

Herbek said with generally lower quality soybean seed available this year, any stress could easily reduce germination resulting in poor stands. Recent rains have aided in reducing possible stress because of lack of soil moisture.

In some areas of the state, farmers with irrigation capabilities began watering their crops several weeks ago in an effort to offset the lack of rainfall.

The first hay crop is getting mixed reviews with some farmers reporting a good-quality crop, while others are reporting about a 60 percent crop. Without moisture for regrowth, the second cutting will be smaller than usual, said Garry Lacefield, UK Extension forage specialist.

"Our forage crops produce the majority of their dry matter during the spring of the year, so lack of moisture across the state has impacted our production," he said. "However, it is quite variable across the state. Some of our early hay yields have been at 90-plus percent normal, while others have been significantly reduced."

In general, hay yields are going to be down but on a positive side, quality is up on hay because of little rain damage, he said.

Fields that have been cut certainly will have regrowth, but they are going to need moisture to make optimum regrowth. Recent rains will aid in that as well, but continued rains are needed.

"We are struggling with some of our new seedings this spring," Lacefield said. "We need a rain to get a good root system developed so we can get them through the summer. I've seen very few total failures."

Pastures are not producing at the level they are capable of producing. But they can rebound rather rapidly with the proper moisture.

"We are optimistic," Lacefield said. "By and large, forage crops have done quite well. We need rain but we are not in a situation where we are out of feed and we hope we don't get into that situation."


James Herbek and Garry Lacefield, (270) 365-7541