CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) _ The wall calendar John Olsson uses to record key events on his farm reminds him of the last time a serious rain fell: the week at the end of April when he was planting his corn.
Now, after weeks of dry heat, Olsson and other farmers in central Illinois say their corn could use a good shower or two. Olsson has about 650 acres of corn just west of Springfield, near the small town of New Berlin.
``It was a little on the wet side there right at planting,'' he recalled of the April showers. ``Then it just cut off.''
Since May 1, rainfall over much of Illinois has been measured in mere tenths of inches, leaving corn little moisture other than what's stored in the soil.
Many areas are three to four inches below normal, National Weather Service meteorologist James Auten said. Urbana is more than 6 inches low.
Corn is at a critical stage, said Emerson Nafziger, a crop-production specialist at the University of Illinois. Pollination should begin in most Illinois corn next week and the plants need lots of water for successful pollination, he said.
In the past four weeks, the lack of rain has robbed Illinois corn of some of its potential, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
On May 20, the USDA reported that a healthy 69 percent of the crop was in good or excellent condition. This week the agency said the figure had dropped to 56 percent.
Illinois bet big on corn this year, with the state's farmers planting a record 12.9 million acres because of demand driven in large part by increased production of the fuel additive ethanol.
Their counterparts across the Corn Belt made similar bets, and big corn states east of Illinois _ like Indiana and Ohio _ also have been dry the past few weeks.
Justin King, who has more than 500 acres of corn on his farm near New Berlin, said the plants' leaves are rolling up because of the lack of rain. He said they often do that during the day to preserve moisture while the sun is out.
But the leaves on his plants are staying rolled up at night.
``If we don't get more than a half an inch of rain _ in my opinion _ over the next three weeks, we've lost half the yield,'' he said.
GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (AP) _ Michigan could be help liable for millions of dollars in damage done to blueberry bushes by road salt mist that drifts onto fields and reduces crop yields, a judge ruled.
Ottawa County Circuit Judge Ed Post's decision gives hope to six blueberry farmers who are seeking reimbursement for what they claim is significant damage in recent years.
The farmers sued the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Ottawa County Road Commission in 2005. They claimed that excess salt harmed bushes more than 300 feet from the road.
``I'm ecstatic,'' Wayne Kiel, of Blueberry Heritage Farms in Holland, told The Grand Rapids Press. ``We want them to change the way they do business, find alternatives to the salt.''
Post's ruling, issued last week, contrasts with a 2005 legal decision that exonerated the Road Commission on governmental immunity claims. The farmers are appealing that decision.
The ruling found that the state cannot make the same claim because the salt poses a ``trespass nuisance'' onto private property, overriding any governmental immunity at the state level.
State transportation department spokesman Bill Schreck said he did not know whether the state will appeal the ruling.
Kent Rubley, director of the Road Commission, said he anticipates an appeal, largely because the ruling could have a far-reaching impact.
``What other crops are out there that have been damaged, where the property owners are just waiting in the wings?'' he asked.
A trial will determine whether the state should pay damages, which likely would be confined to blueberry fields along U.S. 31 and Michigan 45, roads the state controls.