June 6, 2007 | By: Laura Skillman

Some Kentucky fields have enjoyed a shower or two in recent days but many are in need of substantial precipitation to alleviate three weeks of no rainfall and to help crops bounce back.

Because of the warm, dry conditions of late May, hay fields and pastures aren’t growing and that’s especially troubling in areas where first hay cuttings were already short because of this spring’s freeze.

“The hay crop is precarious at best,” said Tom Keene, hay marketing specialist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. “We’ve had good weather to bale hay, but yields are down substantially – from one third to two thirds less than normal. I’m guessing we are down 50 percent on our first cutting.”

And the dry conditions don’t bode well for regrowth, especially when coupled with high temperatures that further slow growth of cool season grasses such as fescue. Pastures, too, are suffering. Keene said he was in some horse pastures on a recent afternoon and they looked more like it was the middle of August instead of June.

“They were crispy under your feet, which is not good,” he said.

But Keene said it’s not yet time to push the panic button. A good soaking rain and cooler temperatures in the next couple of weeks could go a long way toward improving the prognosis. Rains in July would also help build up pastures for stockpiling forages for fall, he said.

Keene said because of the good hay-making weather, the quality that has been baled is good, therefore producers need to work to get them properly stored to reduce any storage losses. 

Tom Priddy, agricultural meteorologist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture said May was a very warm month with a significant drying trend for the state and despite a few showers over the past weekend, the state has continued to slip into hydrologic 
drought. On Monday, west and central Kentucky were listed in moderate hydrologic drought while eastern Kentucky slipped into the severe category.

Areas that received recent showers still need more help to keep crops growing and pastures abundant. High temperatures are also expected to creep into the state causing heat stress to crops and livestock.

“It will be hot enough to suck anything up out of the ground that has fallen in the past few days,” Priddy said.

Corn and soybean growers across the state are hoping timely rains will come into the state. Some of the crops already are experiencing stress from the lack of moisture and heat which could reduce yields.

In its weekly crop and weather report, the Kentucky field office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service reported some soybean producers are waiting for rainfall to complete planting. In addition, corn and soybean plants have slowed in growth, said Jim Herbek, UK grains crop specialist. Leaves on plants are rolling up and showing other signs of moisture related stress. Some earlier-planted soybeans are starting to abort flowers.

“There’s a lot of rain needed, not only to come back to normal in the soil itself but just to keep the plants going later in the season,” he said. “If this continues another two to three weeks, it’s going to become severe and it will definitely have an effect on yield potential.”

The 30-day forecast calls for near normal temperatures and precipitation, Priddy said. But that could change if a developing La Niña in the equatorial Pacific takes hold. In La Niña conditions, Kentucky sometimes experiences drier periods during the growing season. However, even in a dry season if rains fall in a timely fashion, producers can still have a good crop, he noted.


Tom Keene, 859-257-3144, Tom Priddy, 859-257-3000 ext. 245, Jim Herbek, 270-365-7541, ext. 205