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Summer Drought a Challenge for Fall Corn Mazes, Agritourism

HARRODSBURG, Ky. - As summer transitions to fall, many farmers are getting their pumpkin patches, corn mazes, and hay rides ready for visitors. But the oppressive drought could put a damper on seasonal attractions.

The corn field at Glenn Devine’s farm in Mercer County is tall, green, and thick -- perfect for a winding maze to walk through for a while – or get lost in.

This year the Devine family chose a design celebrating the University of Kentucky national champion men’s basketball team for their main 8 acre corn maze. And from the looks of it now, you wouldn’t know there was a major drought this summer.

Glenn’s daughter-in-law Christie Devine says the heat and lack of rain had some loyal visitors worried.

“We’d be in town at ball games and stuff and people would say ‘We’ve been driving by and don’t see the corn maze, are you all not doing the corn maze this year?’”

The Devines planted their corn on July 5th, intentionally late so it will stay green through the end of October.

Aerial photo of the 2012 Devine's Corn Maze. Courtesy of Devine family.

Can't Wait for Rain

Keeping the stalks green has taken a lot of extra work and the help of the Salt River near the farm. With a pump, long aluminum pipes and several larger water guns, the corn stayed hydrated.

Devine kept his corn maze irrigated by pumping water from the nearby Salt River. Photo courtesy Devine family.

“We watered as best we could. You can’t hardly get through it as thick as it is. So we watered from each side,” says Glenn Devine.

Most farmers without a steady supply of water weren’t so fortunate. This summer all but 4 of Kentucky’s 120 counties were classified as drought disaster areas. Seven counties, including Mercer, were designated primary natural disaster areas due to crop losses.

“It’s been a very interesting year to say the least,” says Jeremy Hinton, owner of Hinton's Orchard and Farm Market in LaRue County.

He and his wife also have a corn maze, about 3 acres, but at one point they didn’t think it would be possible this year “because it was about waist-high and didn’t have good color and just really didn’t look good at all.”

Some recent thunderstorms have helped the corn, but Hinton’s main concerns this summer have been his apple and peach trees. An early start to spring followed by a late frost was a big blow to orchards across the central U.S.

Then the drought set in. Hinton doesn’t have a system in place for watering his corn field but does use drip irrigation on the majority of his trees.

“So we did spend a lot of time and a lot of money this summer irrigating those things, trying to save the crop but also with the trees trying to make sure those trees survived,” says Hinton.

Worth the Struggle

Hinton can’t remember ever having to irrigate as much as he did in June, and the water bill that month was 4 to 5 times higher than usual.

Still, Hinton knows his situation is much less severe than that of other farmers he’s talked to.

“Much of the corn crop here will be from 10 to 25% of what it would normally be in a good year. The best of it probably won’t be half of it what it would be in a good year.”

Back in Mercer County, this summer has been one of the most challenging Glenn Devine has seen in over three decades. But he says all the work is just a way of life for farmers.

Pumpkins are ready for picking.

“It ain’t whether it’s worth it or not, you just do it. You have to do it. If you ask any farmer he’ll probably say it ain’t worth it but he’ll do it again next year.”

The Hinton family kicked off their apple festival last weekend, and the Devine’s Corn Maze opens this Friday.

As for pumpkins, both farmers say the rains that finally came in August have made for a healthy crop.

Lexington native Brenna Angel anchored local morning newscasts for WUKY through May 13. She joined the station in March 2010 after previously working for WHAS-AM in Louisville.