The strong storms rolling through East Tennessee this week bring good news to local farmers thankful for any precipitation during a nationwide drought. The extremely dry and hot conditions have ravaged farms from the Midwest to the Eastern Seaboard.
Neal Denton with UT Agriculture Extension said corn prices have already jumped 20 percent due to drought. However, the recent rain in East Tennessee has provided a glimmer of hope to local farmers.
"The rain we've gotten so far, it is going to help everything. We're going to see what could have been a
complete disaster at least have a shot to make some harvest. Right now it's looking pretty good. The weather patterns seem to have shifted for at least 10 days in the forecast," said Denton. "But a lot of damage has already been done, especially to corn."
Corn and soybean farmer Curtis Blake put his tractor's discs to the dirt Tuesday to grind up more than 80 acres of dust and weeds.
"This is a new farm we've got and we're working these weeds under so we can plant soybeans. This is full of weeds called Mare's Tail. It's awful looking," laughed Blake. "With the rain and that little moisture, the discs will sink a bit deeper."
The recent rain has changed Blake's entire outlook from one of total loss to possibly only losing 10 to 20 percent of his yield.
"Last week when we did not have any rain, I'm glad I had crop insurance," said Blake. "Corn is in a critical stage, we need an inch to two inches to finish it out."
While the recent rain is giving farmers some hope that their plants can bounce back from parched soil, equally important to crop survival is relief from the extremely hot air.
"Most of the pollen produced by the plant, the heat kills it. It doesn't last that long in that kind of temperature range," said Denton. "Depending on which stage the plants were in when we had this incredible heat will determine how much impact has already been made on crop yield."
"The biggest relief we've seen is the temperatures. Pollen can't survive that kind of heat. You can have all the rain in the world but without pollen it doesn't mean anything," said Blake.
A predicted cool down and a soaking rain this week could ultimately make a productive year out of one that seemed destined to break East Tennessee crops. It could also get Blake's new field stuck in the mud and wash the weeds off his immediate to-do list.
"I hope we get so much rain we can't get it [the new field] done," said Blake. "We've got 350 other acres full of crops wanting a drink of water right now. But we're still in better shape rain-wise than some places. Go south around Sweetwater and they are really hurting."
Even with local relief, Denton said consumers across the nation can expect higher prices on beef, chicken, pork, and any other food products that depend on corn and soybeans.
"You will probably see the change in prices in six months or so. The damage done has already increased the price of corn which impacts so many things," said Denton.