September 27, 2006 | By: Aimee Nielson
LEXINGTON, KY.

Record rainfall swept over Kentucky recently and western parts of the state took the worst hit of all, with a deluge of 13.82 inches recorded in Mayfield in fewer than 72 hours. University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Meteorologist Tom Priddy said September is already the state’s second wettest in 111 years.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s quite rare to get this type of rainfall during this time of year. We are usually going into the driest part of the season right about now. This is almost like a one in 100-year storm. In western Kentucky, it’s already the wettest September on record. Paducah has had 11.24 inches of rain this month; their previous record was 9.23 inches and that was in 1985.”

No areas of Kentucky are in drought status, and that’s good news, Priddy said. But some fields in western Kentucky were under water for up to three days, severely damaging crops that were near harvest.

In Graves County, UK Cooperative Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources Bill Green said there is a lot of debris and mud in the fields. He said corn, soybeans and tobacco fields were victims of the recent floods.

“It was scary,” he said. “It started raining and when one wave ended, the sun came through, but two or three hours later, another wave of rain started. I’ve been in Graves County for 35 years and this is the worst localized rainfall I’ve ever seen. A lot of crops were submerged.”

Green estimated between 50 to 60 percent of the corn crop and about 30 to 35 percent of the soybeans have been harvested. He said it’s difficult at this point to estimate the extent of the damage to the remaining crops.

UK Extension Grain Crops Specialist Chad Lee said the flooding could result in yield losses, but he can’t say to what extent.

“Farmers will need to carefully scout the fields and determine if the plants are worth harvesting – if the plants can stand or if the plants need to be harvested immediately,” he said. “With corn, there are issues about whether or not it can be fed to livestock. It you want to feed it, you need to get it tested for toxins, fungi and bacteria.”

Lee said the safest thing to do is to avoid feeding corn to livestock. 

“Grain elevators won’t accept kernels that are soaked,” he said. “Obviously if farmers can’t sell the grain, they are going to want to try to feed it, but it must be tested, especially if it’s going to be fed to cattle.”

Green said farmers in Graves County have not had to deal much with mycotoxins in the last several years because they haven’t had the kind of storms that came through the area last weekend.

“Another factor is the topsoil,” he said. “When the floodwater came through – there went the organic matter and the nutrients and all the good stuff. It takes time to build that back.”

In Marshall County, harvesting has not progressed as much as in Graves County. Twenty-five percent of the UK soybean variety trial plot in Marshall County was inundated with floodwater and that’s just one part of a larger soybean field, said Lincoln Martin, the county’s UK Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources. He said some fields were under water for two to three days.

“There’s nothing good about getting all this rain in such a short period of time,” he said. “A lot of producers aren’t really sure what they are going to have left. If their crop did survive, what is the grain quality going to be? Just because it’s still standing doesn’t mean it’s marketable.”

Martin said the only thing farmers can do right now is wait. In the meantime, they can contact their crop insurance adjuster and get on the list for a visit. 

Lee said farmers should be aware of four specific scenarios related to soybeans. First, soybean seeds that have dried below 50 percent moisture and imbibe water to rise above 50 percent moisture can germinate. In the scenario of flooded soybeans, sprouting in the pod is a possibility. The second scenario is shattering once the plants dry out. Third, farmers should look for saprophytic fungi. The moist, dead soybean plant material is a good host to saprophytic fungi. These could discolor some soybean seeds, he said. They could cause clouds of black dust during harvest and the fungi could weaken stalks. The fourth possibility is lodging of plants. Lodging can result from rapid movement of water into or out of the field.

Green emphasized that crop damage is not the only part of the financial equation. Cleanup will become another important variable.

“Farmers have to be aware of the cleanup costs,” he said. “They need to be careful not to get pieces of the debris in their combines. Sometime after harvest, it’s all going to have to be cleaned up.”

Contact: 

Chad Lee, 859-257-3203, Tom Priddy, 859-257-3000, ext. 245, Bill Green, 270-247-2334, Lincoln Martin 270-527-3285