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Total cost of drought still on its way 

 
Moline Dispatch/Rock Island Argus
July 26, 2012
By Stephen Elliott

MOLINE -- The true cost of this summer's drought may not be known for a while, according to Illinois Lt. Gov. SheilaSimon.

"The bigger impact will be felt by all of us when we're buying our corn flakes or beef or pork down the road," she said. "Those commodity prices are going to be going up. They already have been."

Before chairing a meeting of the Mississippi River Coordinating Council at Western Illinois University's Riverfront Campus on Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Simon spoke about the drought, announcing that 48 Illinois counties have been declared disaster areas.

Rock Island, Henry, Mercer and Whiteside counties still are being assessed for disaster relief eligibility, she said. The designation would provide farmers with access to low-interest loans.

"The drought here is so severe and so extensive that the governor has taken the unusual step of asking that every county in the state be declared a disaster area," Lt. Gov.Simon said. "The most important thing is to keep the agricultural system going.

"Right now, a farmer who buys an enormous combine usually makes one payment a year," Lt. Gov. Simon said. "This will help to keep the farmers in business."

The local counties are among the 95 percent of Illinois classified as being in severe drought or worse, she said. Lt. Gov. Simon's office reported that 66 percent of corn fields, 49 percent of soybean fields and 91 percent of pastures in Illinois were rated poor to very poor this week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The state has drought-related information and resources online at drought.illinois.gov, she said.

Outside Cambridge, Clayton Casteel knows the effect of the drought all too well. He spent Wednesday working in the 101-degree heat building a new grain bin.

"I don't know if we'll have any crop to put in it," he said. "Our corn crop is in dire need of rain. It's not pretty out here."

Like many cattlemen, Mr. Casteel is finding hay scarce for his 250-plus herd of Angus.

"There's no hay left for sale," he said. "The pastures are all burned out. There was such a drought in the past few years in the south, those folks came up and bought the extra hay.

"There's a good chance we'll have to sell off some of our cattle," added Mr. Casteel, who has been in the cattle business since 1995. "We have no choice."

Other growers also know the pain of the drought. At Wyffels Tree Farm, Rick and Kathy Wyffels have lost the 900 trees they planted this year on their 13-acre Christmas tree farm at 3319 N. Shore Drive, Moline. They lost another 600 trees planted on their Mineral farm. 

All of the fir and Scotch pines were wiped out by the heat and drought, said Mr. Wyffels.

"They're all dead," Mr. Wyffels said of this year's planting. "Everybody was sending me stuff for crop insurance, but I found out the insurance for Christmas trees cost more than buying and actually planting the trees."

Mr. Wyffels said he and his wife are retired school teachers who have used the tree farms to put their children through college. They'll plant again next April, he said.

"We are at the mercy of Mother Nature," Mr. Wyffels said.

At Advantage Tree Services LLC, in Bettendorf, owner Jeremy Bowling said his lawn-care business is down substantially.

"We're definitely losing business on the lawn side," he said, noting that his tree work -- planting, removing, pruning and grindin stumps -- is doing better.

"I'm seeing a lot of fire blight this year," Mr. Bowling said. "I've never seen it like that before (in) the Bradford Pears and crabapples, a lot of river birches.

"But the biggest thing for us is the weather. It kind of kills morale," he said. "Just because we're working every day still, we're working twice as hard to get the same job done because of the heat."

David Cousins, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service of the Quad-Cities, said July would be the third driest month on record if it ended Wednesday. As of Tuesday, there were 18 days at 90 degrees plus for the month, more than twice the average of 8.9 days.

According to the Illinois State Water Survey, statewide precipitation has been 13.54 inches this year, making it the second driest January-July on record. Weather forecasts hold rain chances for today and tonight, with a second wave of precipitation expected early next week.

Cruel, cruel summer 

The effects of this summer's high temperatures and drought are felt throughout the area:

-- For the second time this week, temperatures hit triple digits in the Quad-Cities on Wednesday. After reaching 102 on Monday, the mercury made it to 101 Wednesday afternoon. 

As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, Genesis Medical Center, East Rusholme St., Davenport, had reported just one patient with heat-related illness. Genesis Medical Center, West Central Park, Davenport, had seen two and Genesis Medical Center, Illini Campus, Silvis, had not seen any patients due to heat.

Trinity also treated six people Wednesday for heat-releated illnesses.

-- Ron Fournier, a spokesman for the Corps of Engineers, said the river level below Lock and Dam 15 in Rock Island is 5.18 feet. Last year it was 11.06 feet at this point of the summer. 

The historical norm is 5.9 feet, he said, suggesting recreational boaters stay within the 9-foot navigational channel. 

-- Money for summer cooling aid has been exhausted, according to Project NOW's community service director Ron Lund. So have the free fans Project NOW had offered.

"We've been out of them for quite some time," Mr. Lund said.

-- Colona officials on Monday approved keeping the town's senior center open later to provide a cool place for the elderly. Starting today, temperatures are not expected to climb past the lower 90s for the next week.

-- The onset of the extreme heat seemed to take the wind out of local anglers' sails, according to Connie Boyd, assistant manager of E-Z Livin' Sports Center in Milan. But despite low river levels, some fisherman are adapting, she said.

"It was like people got used to it and were doing what they'd do anyway," she said. "The last couple of weeks, people are finding some pretty good-sized holes on the Rock River. And, they're catching a lot of catfish. 

"Leeches are done for the season," she said. "Liver, shrimp and stink bait top the list."