November 1, 2000 | By: Laura Skillman

What a difference a year and a little rain can make.

With most of the corn and soybean harvest completed around the state, farmers have seen yields shoot back up after suffering devastating lows a year ago due to severe drought.

Rains across the state have been timely in 2000 allowing crops to get the necessary moisture for development.

From April 1 to Oct. 24, 1999, Kentucky had only 68 percent of its normal rainfall while it received 98 percent during that same time period in 2000, said Tom Priddy, University of Kentucky Extension meteorologist. Extreme temperatures in 1999 compounded the damage. The Paducah weather service reported 20 days of 95 degrees or higher in 1999 with only 8 days reported in 2000, he said.

The past two years are a reminder that while lots of things contribute to yields, lack of moisture is the most limiting factor, said James Herbek, University of Kentucky Extension grains specialist.

This year, farmers are reaping the benefits of adequate moisture. Estimates are that the state's farmers averaged 130 bushels per acre on their corn crop this year. That's the best yield in 8 years, according to the Kentucky Agricultural Statistics Service.

Soybeans were seriously impacted by the 1999 drought with some farmers opting to abandon rather than harvest them. But the 2000 crop was one that saw production jump 77 percent from a year earlier. The 1999 crop contained fewer acres than 2000 but yields were up substantially.

Soybean yields are anticipated to average 40 bushels per acre, a record high, and 19 bushels per acre better than in 1999.

Conditions began favorably for the 2000 crop with a spring that allowed timely planting of corn and soybeans. That was followed by timely rains along with plenty of sunny days throughout the growing season. Favorable harvest conditions capped off the year.

"Rainfall throughout the season occurred rather nicely," Herbek said.

In 1999, the rain spigot shut down the first of July or sooner across the state leaving crops to languish.

Drought conditions across the state persisted through 1999 but conditions vastly improved in the new year with needed rains.

While conditions were better in 2000, weather conditions varied across the state. Some southern and western counties did not get as timely rainfalls as other areas and yields suffered as a result. But those yield still far exceeded last year's devastating yields, Herbek said.

Varieties are also playing a role in yield increases across the state and nation. Herbek noted that if you track yields over the decade, part of the increases are due to hybrids. If all other factors are equal, improved hybrids account for about a one bushel increase in yields per year, he said.

Farmers in Kentucky are also using more early to medium maturing varieties. In the past, full season varieties offered the best yield potential but that difference has been diminished. Also, with the droughts of the 1980s and 1990s, the early to medium season varieties had better yields than full season varieties, he said.

Kentucky's subsoil moisture still has a way to go before being replenished but has made vast improvements from a year ago.

In the latest report by the Palmer Drought Index, western and central Kentucky are in the moderate hydrologic drought range. The bluegrass and eastern sections of the state are near normal, according to the index.

To learn more about weather conditions in the state visit the weather center on the UK College of Agriculture's web site,


James Herbek, (270) 365-7541; Tom Priddy, (859) 257-3000