Hot, dry weather bakes county

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

Like much of the rest of America's southeast, Marshall County is suffering drought and there's some anticipation of a disaster declaration.

"The emergency board met last week to get the paperwork started to get Marshall County declared a disaster," said Rick Skillington, county director of the University of Tennessee's Agricultural Extension Service.

"Some of the farmers have insurance on their crops but some of the insurance companies are requiring that the corn stand there until mid July before they can do anything," Skillington said.

And then, the corn is "going to be so dry, it can't be used as silage," he said. "I don't know what we're going to do with it."

Meanwhile, the state's ban on open burning remains in effect because of a lack of rain.

What little rain that fell here early this week was only "about enough to wet your shirt," Marshall County Emergency Management Agency Director Bob Hopkins said Tuesday.

Sunday night, nearby counties to the north were drenched, but only parts of Marshall got wet, and then not enough to make a lasting impact across the county.

"Parts of the county got two inches, but it was a narrow strip near Milltown," Skillington said.

Still, he deflected any speculation about climate change.

"The rain we're getting is typical summer weather - spotty rain," Skillington said Monday, turning to its ill effects.

"It's demonstrated itself on all aspects of agriculture," he said.

"Pastures are gone," Skillington said. "Live stock producers are looking at anywhere to a third to a half of what they make in hay, and they're feeding the winter hay right now.

"It's not just part of the county," he said. "It's the entire county."

Meanwhile, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture has issued a Hay Directory listing places where hay may be purchased.

"The corn, particularly in the good ground, is not even setting ears, much less the marginal ground," Skillington said.

This weather, combined with fertilization practices, demands attention.

"There's always a chance of nitrate building up in corn and that's poisonous if it's used as livestock feed," the UT Extension Service officer said.

"Nitrites are turned into nitrates in the corn when the plant shuts down," he said of corn drawing the nutrients up as planned by farmers who fertilized with nitrites.

The corn-killing drought prompts a cautionary test on the farmers' corn.

"They're testing their corn for nitrate," Skillington said Monday while he was at a 4-H cattle show. "I've carried off 10-15 samples to be tested" in a state laboratory.

The good news is that " all the samples have shown they're OK for feed," he said.

Nevertheless, the testing isn't a good sign.

"They wouldn't be doing that if the drought wasn't so bad," Skillington said.

And while he's not heard of fire burning crops, Skillington pointed out that "You still have the chance of burning equipment and buildings, and possibly even the livestock if they couldn't get out" of a fenced pasture."

If a farm suffers a grass fire across pasture, Skillington said, "They'll have to come back and re-sow the pasture."