Morning headlines: Sunday, July 8, 2012 | St. Louis Public Radio

Morning headlines: Sunday, July 8, 2012

Jul 8, 2012

Early drought exacting a toll on regional corn farmers

Extreme heat and drought are driving down what many farmers expected to be a bumper corn crop.  

Back in March and April, warm weather had Midwestern farmers planting corn at a record setting pace.

In Illinois alone, an estimated more than 13 million acres of corn were planted this year.  

Now, many growers are in full on damage control as record setting heat continues to drive down expected yields.

Gary Guenther farms just outside of Belleville and hopes scatter showers and cooler temperatures can help him save what’s left.

“We’re supposed to get some rain Sunday night and Monday, but they’re scattered showers,” Guenther says.  “So, if you happen to be blessed and be under one of those scattered showers it’s going to help your crops out quite a bit.”

In parts of Illinois and Missouri some corn farmers have started mowing over their fields, completely throwing in the towel on this year’s crop.

That has crop insurance agents feeling anxious as well.

Current numbers for the total value of corn covered by crop insurance aren’t available yet.

But according to National Crop Insurance Services last year around $10 billion in corn was insured in Missouri and Illinois combined.

Tom Zacharias is president of National Crop Insurance Services and says if the drought continues the effects could ripple throughout rural communities.

“Many of these companies are located throughout the Midwest, they live in the same communities as the farmers they serve,” Zacharias says.  “The tantamount concern at this point is the farming community, and ultimately if this gets worse, consumers could ultimately be impacted by this.”

Zacharias is quick to point out that there’s no way to know what the rest of the growing season will bring, and says crops overall could bounce back.

Another record high is set, heat-relief on the way

Yet another record high temperature was set yesterday with the mercury hitting 107.

At least 134 people have suffered a heat related illness in St. Louis County since the start of the heat wave.  

But relief could be on the way.

The forecast calls for scattered showers and cooler temperatures tonight and tomorrow.

Melissa Byrd is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service and says the storm front will bring much anticipated relief from the extreme heat.

“The storms will be fairly scattered, we’re not expecting a lot of rainfall with them,” Byrd says.  “But we will see back down to the upper 80s to mid-90s on Sunday, and then the rest of next week we’ll see high temperatures in the mid to upper 80s.”

Illinois investigates Planned Parenthood billing

A published report says Illinois Medicaid's inspector general is investigating the billing practices of Planned Parenthood of Illinois' medical director.

Crain's Chicago Business reports that more than $3 million in Medicaid funds went to Dr. Caroline Hoke in fiscal year 2009. The business journal says that made Hoke the Illinois program's second-highest-paid doctor. Payments to Hoke dropped to nothing by 2011.

A spokesman for the state's Medicaid agency says payments are being suspended to Hoke until billing issues are resolved.

Planned Parenthood of Illinois CEO Carole Brite denies wrongdoing and says the organization will have to repay the state an unspecified amount. Brite says the review began in 2010.

The Crain's report says it's routine for someone like Hoke to submit claims for the health providers she supervises.

Illinois child abuse hotline callers have to leave messages

A newspaper's investigation has found that most callers to the Illinois child abuse hotline don't reach a welfare specialist on their first try.

The Chicago Tribune reports in its Sunday editions that the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services took messages for more than 60 percent of those calls. The newspaper report says a delayed response can endanger children.

The Tribune analyzed hotline calls over an 11-year period. In 2001, nearly 70 percent of hotline callers got a specialist on the first try. Today, it's less than 40 percent.

Department spokesman Kendall Marlowe tells the newspaper that the hotline needs to be properly staffed to avoid messages.

State law requires the department to operate the hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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