Drought worsens, Lenawee County at ‘severe drought’ level

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A soy bean field on Rogers Hwy. shows the effects of this summer’s drought conditions. Photo by Mickey Alvarado.

It’s been a long hot summer for residents in Lenawee County. The lack of rain added to the oppressive temperatures is starting to affect plant life in a variety of ways.

According to droughtmonitor.unl.edu, Lenawee County is one of 25 counties in Michigan with a “severe drought” designation, while four counties west of Lenawee, including Hillsdale County, have “extreme drought” designations. Lina M. Rodriguez Salamanca, a vegetable educator for Michigan State University (MSU), covers a territory that includes Lenawee County as well as several other southern Michigan counties. The focus from the farmers and growers she works with is currently on irrigation, rather than any other crop issues.

“When I visit vegetable growers, they want to know about irrigation,” Salamanca said.

Surface irrigated vegetables are losing water to evaporation from the heat. Crops irrigated from wells are performing better. More irrigation is needed this year than any other year on record, according to Salamanca. Her recommendation to farms is to focus on drip irrigation because it is directed right at the plant and goes to the roots, providing more relief. More farmers are utilizing plastic mulch as a way to keep irrigation moisture from evaporating.

Although human beings do not often appreciate hot weather, insects thrive during hot dry summers, according to Salamanca. Early planting can often put plants ahead of the insect growth cycle, and with the very warm spring, early planting happened on many farms. Insects currently active include cucumber beetles, leafhoppers and potato beetles.

Salamanca works with vegetable growers to identify when insects are likely to create problems with crops. “I think growers have learned how to manage those insects,” she said.

Weather can’t be controlled, so management is key to surviving extreme conditions like this year’s drought. “We need to learn how to adapt to the changes in the weather,” said Salamanca.

In addition to working with farmers on crop management, Salamanca also works to remind them of other hot weather dangers that come with farm work. “People need to be very aware of any heat stroke symptoms,” she said.

Jeff Pilbeam, an area farmer, would love to see some rain. “In my area directly we have had very little rain, period,” he said. “Rain goes north of us and south of us. Today we got a tenth of an inch even though the radar looked very promising.”

The lack of rain combined with the heat is having a noticeable affect on the crops. “As far as harvest, it is not looking good at all for the corn. Ears are small and the leaves are folded up,” said Pilbeam. “Beans may make it if we get rain soon.”

Besides the affect on the field crops, the lack of rain makes life miserable for many who live on the many dirt roads in Lenawee County. Pilbeam and his neighbors are aggravated with the slow response from the Lenawee County Road Commission.

“The dust on Lenawee County roads is unacceptable,” he said. “We are tired of hearing how the pump is broken. Ok, then get help from Washtenaw County or a private company. We still pay taxes.”

Frustrated with the lack of dust control and the effect it is having not only on crops located near the roadway but also on the health of his family, Pilbeam is looking into EPA laws regarding dust control.

It’s not just farmers who are affected by the hot and dry weather. For any homeowner, there are several areas to consider with yard and garden care recommended by MSU. Their website, at msue.anr.msu.edu/resources/-drought_resources/, offers many links and helpful information about drought and weather and the effect on Michigan.

Gardners with perennial plants in the yard, should keep them watered for healthy plants next year. When watering the lawn it’s a good idea to check how well the sprinkler is covering the lawn. Coverage can be checked easily by placing tuna or cat food cans around the yard and looking at the water levels in each can.

There may be more insects on plants this year, but fungal issues are less common because fungus needs moisture to grow. Weeds are happy with the heat, so consider using mulch to keep moisture in and weeds out of flower and vegetable beds.

Optimum growth for turf grasses happens between 66 and 75 degrees. In higher temperatures many grasses go dormant. Watering the grass may seem like a good idea, but it does not change the temperature, and could also encourage crabgrass, which isn’t dormant in hot weather.

Everyone needs to be conscious of heat related health issues like heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Drink water, dress in loose clothing, cool off with cool mist or by taking a shower.

Summer weather is predicted to last longer than normal this year according the National Weather Service.




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