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Heat takes toll on crops

Local soybean and horseradish crops hardest hit

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The way Craig Engeling describes it, if this month's oppressive heatwave and less-than-normal rainfall keeps up, his crop of soybeans and horseradish on 1,000 acres near Glen Carbon is in big trouble.

"We haven't had a good shower in two to three weeks," he said Thursday, when the heat index in Collinsville reached a boiling 101 degrees. "It is starting to take its toll."

Across the state, farmers are grappling with skyrocketing temperatures and near-drought conditions that could stunt growths and cause lighter yields, possibly causing price increases in future months.

"Over the past few weeks, we've seen a steady decline in crops," said John Hawkins, a spokesman for the Illinois Farm Bureau based in Bloomington.

Especially hard-hit locally are soybeans and the region's sizable horseradish crop, which takes up an estimated 2,000 acres in Madison and St. Clair counties, and is harmed by high temperatures.

"Everything's under stress at the moment," said Tom Jett, who heads the state farm bureau for St. Clair and Madison counties.

Jett said conditions have baked some crops, although the total impact will not be known for several weeks. High temperatures have also taxed local waters, forcing some cities to ask residents to limit water usage.

Engeling said his hardy corn crop is almost fully-grown and ready for harvest. What is less matured are the rows of fickle soybeans nearing maturation.

"Corn is made," Engeling said. "But the soybeans really need rain."

And then there's the horseradish, which prefers lots of moisture — a reason its white, curving roots thrive in the high water table of southwestern Illinois.

"It's a crucial time for horseradish," Engeling said.

He said horseradish is hardy and survives in hot weather.

"But, when it's 100, 102 it's just too much," he said.

The simmering summer comes after Illinois farmers last spring were dealt an unusually late cold snap that destroyed an estimated 160,000 acres of wheat.

Madison, St. Clair and 10 other counties were designated disaster areas, allowing farms to receive federal assistance.

The mild weather continued through the summer, with temperatures statewide averaging 73.5 degrees in July, 2.3 degrees below normal, according to the Illinois State Water Survey.

Temperatures are expected to remain hot this week, hitting 102 degrees today and averaging in the high 90s through Friday.

For Engeling, he said he'd take the rain versus the lower temperatures.

"Well, I'd like to have both," he said. "We need a good soaker."

E-mail: ccoates@yourjournal.com

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