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Praying for Rain

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'I tell everybody that this is the driest place in the state.'

By James Roberts

The ground is dry and cracked in spots. Patches of grass are turning brown.

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"I tell everybody that this is the driest place in the state," says Joey Benningfield, who operates a farm on West Finley Ridge with his father Glenn and grandfather "Boss."

Since June 1, Benningfield said, his land has received about 2 inches of rain.

And it shows in his fields of corn, soybeans and tobacco. The family's beef cattle operation is suffering, too, he said.

"We're already feeding hay because our pasture has dried," Benningfield said.

It's a problem that farmers across Taylor County are dealing with right now, says Pat Hardesty, Taylor County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources.

"What rain we have had has been very spotty," he said. "There are areas of the county where we have had significant rainfall in the last month and a half, and there are spots that have had very little."

Hardesty said the USDA lists Taylor County as "abnormally dry." However, based on lack of rainfall, Hardesty believes that areas of the county are actually experiencing moderate drought conditions. In the last 30 days, the county has received 1.35 inches less rain than average.

That's quite the opposite from the start of the growing season.

"We went from too much rain to not enough," Hardesty said. "I'm afraid we're going to have yields hurt this year more than in the past drought years."

During previous droughts, Hardesty said, farmers were able to plant early, which helped yields. However, from this January through the end of May, Taylor County had about 12 inches more rain than average.

With corn and soybean crops hit the hardest by the lack of rain this summer, Hardesty said, the price of those crops has been going up.

"That may be good for grain producers, but it leads to high feed prices for livestock owners," he said.

Hardesty said some corn yields would likely be low. Benningfield said some of his corn crops have definitely suffered.

"We're going to have to chop it for silage to feed to our cattle," he said.

Soybeans, Hardesty said, are dropping blooms, which will affect yields.

Benningfield said his soybean crop is faring better than his corn crop.

"What's hurt us the most is tobacco," he said. "We had to irrigate most of it."

However, some of Benningfield's tobacco crop isn't planted near a pond, which made irrigation impossible.

The weather can make for a harsh reality for farmers. Growing up on a farm, Benningfield said he knew it wasn't an easy way to make a living.

He said he also knows that the weather doesn't always cooperate. However, according to the National Weather Service, there is a 60 percent chance of thunderstorms this morning. Still, with all of the recent rainfall being very spotty, Benningfield's West Finley Ridge farm may not see any relief soon.

"I have a friend on East Finley and they've got plenty of rain," Benningfield said. "It seems like we've missed every one."