The rain fell so hard on June 18 in my hometown of Crystal Lake, Ill., that the power went out because broken tree limbs snapped power transmission wires. It was a great night.
Forget any perceived sarcasm. I'm totally serious. Like other states, northern Illinois is in dire need of rain. It's been a brutally dry and hot summer.
Of course, I have to take care of just six tomato plants, four pepper plants, two cucumber vines, and my ever-growing pumpkin plant. I don't have to worry about an entire farm.
Indeed, the corn in the area has grown to the correct height ("knee-high by the Fourth of July"), but the heat has delayed the actual germination of the kernels. If the world ate cornstalks, farmers wouldn't have much to worry about.
And if the farmers are worrying, fabricators should begin to fret. The agricultural market has been a very important one for the metal fabricating market in recent years. Just take a look at the Census Bureau's Quarterly Survey of Plant Capacity Utilization. Companies that fall into the "agriculture, construction, and mining machinery manufacturing" category report capacity utilization rates that average out to be 79.4 percent. That's a robust percentage when compared to other industry sectors that require fabricated metal products.
The energy sector tends to grab most of the headlines, but the agriculture industry has helped to prop up metal fabrication as much as any other industry during these trying economic times. Farmers have earned nice returns on their crops and have plowed much of that into new equipment. Whether it's a watering system that requires hundreds of feet of tubing or a farming implement made from heavy plate, agricultural equipment requires a lot of metal and talent to put it together.
Is it panic time? It's getting close. This was supposed to be a record year in terms of the yield of some crops, but that is not going to happen. Some much-needed rain could salvage a dreadful situation and make it into merely an off year, not a disastrous one. That might soften the potential blow in 2013 if investment dollars in new equipment pull back when compared to previous years.
So let's hope that a tropical storm can shake things up and drop some more rain on the areas of the U.S. that need it most. You almost knew that a storm named Fabio wouldn't do much of anything.