The sweltering heat and lack of rain has had profound effects on all of us, especially Hoosier farmers, as many experts are comparing our current dry spell to the devastating drought of 1936. Almost 20 percent of Indiana is now experiencing “exceptional” drought conditions – the worst possible category on the U.S. Drought Monitor. Overall, about 87 percent of Indiana is now facing at least a severe drought.
Johnson County is one of 64 counties in Indiana designated by the USDA as a primary natural disaster area. An additional 16 counties are considered contiguous natural disaster areas.
The drought is having a ripple effect throughout our community. Last week, the USDA Farm and Foreign Ag Services Undersecretary Michael Scuse toured Merrill Kelsay’s sixth-generation dairy and grain farm in Johnson County to assess the impact of the drought.
The drought is affecting livestock farmers as well as crop farmers. Preliminary estimates predict 30 percent of corn crops will be lost, which is enough to considerably impact future grain prices. Additionally, the cost of feeding dairy cows is already up 25 percent, meaning beef prices are likely to increase as the year goes on.
Farmers are not in this alone as all of us are being affected by the drought. The farming industry does more than supply food – it provides jobs. Seventeen percent of the state’s jobs are agriculture-related.
As a result of the drought conditions, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources recently placed all of Indiana’s 92 counties under a water shortage warning. The water shortage warning is step two of three in the state’s emergency drought plan.
The warning impacts only significant water withdrawal facilities. Such facilities are asked to conserve 10-15 percent of their water intake. The water shortage warning is only a voluntary and cautionary step and is not currently mandatory.
I strongly urge the farmers in our community to contact their crop insurance company and local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office to report damages to crops or livestock loss. Please visit www.in.gov/drought for the latest updates and resource links.