Published January 13, 2015
Harvey Heier checked his dryland fields and watched helplessly as his corn plants withered under the unrelenting heat wave. The plants along the edge of his fields are brown.
Before the scorching temperatures hit his farm, it looked like he might have a decent corn crop thanks to scattered rains earlier in the season. But now he figures he's losing bushels off his production every day.
"It is like the death of a loved one," he said.
Fierce heat blanketed the nation from California to the Northeast Monday. Scores of communities reported temperatures of more than 100. Redding, Calif., about 160 miles north of Sacramento, reached 110 degrees. Parts of Oklahoma hit 109.
Temperatures at Heier's farm reached 100 or 101 Monday; a day earlier it was 106. No relief was forecast until the end of the week.
In Kansas, the state Agricultural Statistics Service reported that the high temperatures continued to stress row crops. Corn condition has deteriorated, with the agency rating 12 percent of the crop as poor to very poor. About 34 percent remained in fair shape, while 45 percent was rated as good and 9 percent as excellent.
"Corn lucky enough to be in places that received beneficial rains last week are probably positioned as good as it can be for this time. They are not immediately under as much drought stress," said Jere White, executive director of the Kansas Corn Growers Association.
In California, the United Farm Workers union launched a radio campaign to educate farmworkers throughout the state about their right to drinking water, shade and breaks — rules developed after five farmworkers died of heat-related deaths last year.
The heat also has taken its toll on livestock. In rural Doniphan County in northeast Kansas, one cattleman lost 32 head of cattle in Sunday's extreme temperatures. Veterinarians are urging farmers to water pens frequently and keep their livestock under shade coverings to help farm animals beat the heat.
It was the largest loss his family has seen in the 50 years it has raised cattle, said Jerry Boos, who operates a 450-head cattle herd.
"I came out Sunday morning and there they lay," said Boos. "There's just not enough air moving and too much humidity."
The heat wave comes as farmers in many parts of the nation have been dealing with a drought. In Alabama, a drought burned up most of the state's corn before it could be harvested, and now is threatening to ruin some cotton and peanut crops.
Jim Kelly, who farms 4,000 acres of peanuts, cotton and some corn near Hartford in southeast Alabama and northwest Florida, said the only corn that appears to have survived the drought was corn that was being irrigated.
"The other day it rained an inch and a half at my house, but it was dry just down the road," said Kelly, who is also a member of the board of directors of the state Department of Agriculture and Industries. "But within another week or so, you could be looking at around half the crop gone."