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Harvest hopes dashed by wind

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By Vince Luecke

Farmers face steep losses after gusts down corn just ahead of harvest

TELL CITY - A months-long - and mostly successful - growing season for Perry County corn farmers was blown way, literally, Sept. 14 as powerful winds flattened maturing fields. Damage varied depending on location and maturity level of plants, with the fields closest to harvest sustaining some of the worst damage.

Many fields were virtually flattened and will be difficult to harvest, although some farmers planned to purchase special attachments that will help pick up some of the downed stalks.

"It's widespread, not just here," said Rodney Schwoeppe, manager of the St. Meinrad branch of Superior Ag Resources. "(Farmers) have so much money in fertilizer and other input costs. They didn't need this."

Sarah Woebkenberg and her husband, Maurice, are dealing with major damage to many of their corn fields. She estimated losses in the worst-hit areas could reach up to a third of the crop, with 50 bushels or more lost per acre. With cash corn prices at $5 per bushel, farmers face potential losses of thousands of dollars.

The Woebkenbergs harvested a 17-acre field Tuesday and were disappointed at the amount of corn left behind.

"When you get this close to harvest, you're broken-hearted about it," she said. "But you know it could have been worse. It could have been a total loss."

Some damaged corn is not mature enough for harvest, meaning farmers will have to wait for grain to dry further. The delay puts downed corn at risk of rotting or spoiling if the county receives significant rains. Ironically, the Sept. 14 windstorm brought only a few sprinkles and the lack of rain in August and September has left pastures, hayfields and gardens parched. The lack of rain has also hurt yield prospects for soybeans.

Several farmers have placed orders for attachments to harvester corn heads that pull ears from stalks of corn. Some producers purchased the attachments in recent years when downed corn was a problem from weak stalks or insects.

"Several farmers were at their implement dealers' front doors Monday morning, or were calling as soon they opened," Schwoeppe added.

The Woebkenbergs checked into ordering one of the attachments, but high demand means none will be available in time for harvest. Their son and another nearby farmer are working on building an attachment themselves.

Fred Etienne, who farms in eastern Perry County, also reported major losses in fields he harvested last week. He said many ears of corn dropped from the plants and were left lying on the ground.

Etienne has an attachment for his combine on order. The implement dealer he called Monday morning told him he had had already received more than a dozen calls.

Margie Zoglmann, Perry County's ag educator, said Friday she had placed a call to a Purdue University corn specialist to gather information she could relay to farmers.

Stories about droughts, storms and hard times in general passed from one generation of farmers to the next come to mind in times like these, Sarah Woebkenberg said.

"You grow up hearing stories from the Depression and the struggles they faced then," she said. "We have to pick up the pieces and move on, just like they did."