Erratic weather leaves Iowa crop conditions very uneven
Too much rain in the north. Too little in the south. And scorching temperatures that are more typical of mid-July than mid-June.
Taken all together, Iowa farmers say crop conditions are highly dependent on your location and how much rain, if any, has fallen in the past month.
"It’s going to be one of those years where there are some garden spots, and some that are average or below average," said Ben Albright, who farms in Calhoun County in west-central Iowa. Albright received 1.25 inches of rain from May 11 to June 16, most of it coming a tenth or two at a time, he said.
Deep cracks have already started appearing in the soil in southern Iowa, where precipitation during the past month has been less than 50 percent of normal in some locations. The national drought monitor shows abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions across southern Iowa as well as pockets of west-central Iowa.
Meanwhile, some northeast Iowa locations dealt with flash flooding and have ponds in fields after receiving 8 inches or more of rain in the past 30 days.
It’s still early enough in the season that it’s hard to judge the weather’s overall impact on yields, farmers said. It has likely taken the top end off corn yields, but good crops are still possible with timely rains in July and August.
Mostly good to excellent
Overall, 79 percent of Iowa’s corn crop and 80 percent of soybeans are judged to be in good to excellent condition, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s weekly crop progress report released June 20.
Thunderstorms last week brought some much-needed relief in much of southern Iowa, the first rain since late May or early June for many locations.
Before that, corn plants had started rolling their leaves to conserve moisture as temperatures soared above 90 degrees during the past two weeks.
"We’ve been rolling off and on for almost two weeks," said Curt Frazee, who farms in Mills and Montgomery counties. "We had some cracks in the yard that opened up a half-inch."
The area received around 1 inch of inch of rain last week, which was the first precipitation since June 4, he said.
Cracks were also showing up in Union County, said Sam McKnight. He received 0.5 to 1.5 inches of rain last week, but farmers a few miles away had a little more — or nothing at all.
"For most of our fields, that was the first rain we had for the month of June," he said. "We were in dire need of rain."
Rains are spotty
But, he said, the rain completely missed farms just 10 miles away, where McKnight was applying manure for a customer.
"His yard is brown. He’s probably got 2-inch cracks in the soil," McKnight reported.
There are cracks in the soil in Mahaska County, too, and corn leaves were rolling in last week’s heat, said Mike Jackson of Rose Hill.
"Sunshine is taking more moisture out of the corn than it’s picking up. Soybeans aren’t struggling yet, but if we don’t get rain, they will, too," he said.
In northwest Iowa, corn and soybean fields were battered by hail and sustained high winds in a June 17 storm that ripped the roofs off livestock buildings and toppled a 748,000-bushel grain bin under construction at the Craig Farmers Cooperative. Sustained wind speeds were measured about 70 miles per hour, and one weather station measured wind gusts over 100 mph.
Some farmers affected by the storm were replanting soybeans last week in fields where hail stripped leaves from corn and soybean plants. The damage extended along a 30-mile path from the northwest to southeast corner of Plymouth County, said Joel DeJong, Iowa State University Extension area crop specialist.
"It took V8 to V9 corn and chopped it down to the ground in some locations," he said. "A lot of soybeans really don’t have a lot of tissue left. You can get to the edges (of the storm) where some plants will survive, but right in the middle of it, a lot of fields will be replanted to soybeans."
Research indicates soybeans planted in mid-June could yield about 60 percent of their normal potential, DeJong said.
"The later we get, the bigger the range," he said.
Going from wet to dry
Just two counties to the east, crops in Buena Vista County need moisture, said Deb Jesse, who farms near Storm Lake.
"We haven’t gotten a stitch of rain here," she said, noting the last significant rain came June 4. "It’s splitting around us."
It’s been a marked change since April and May, when excessive rains delayed planting and even caused some replanting of wet spots, Jesse noted. Corn still looks good, but watching rain clouds build in the west and then break apart has been concerning, she said.
"Who would have thought a month ago we’d be talking about needing rain?" Jesse said. "I keep wondering if it’s going to stay like this."
Crops in central Iowa look good for the most part, but also need a rain fairly soon, said Boone County farmer Greg Rinehart. Last week’s storms popped up to the south or east of his farm.
"We’re on the dry side," he said. "Corn’s been rolling, and lawns are turning brown."
Rinehart said peas grown for a vegetable processor produced a below average crop.
"It was too wet and cold early and too hot and dry late," he said.
Double-crop soybeans planted after the peas were harvested need moisture to get started, he said. Shallow-rooted vegetables grown for farmers’ markets are also in need of moisture.
"We’re not desperate yet, but we’re really needing rain soon," Rinehart said.
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