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Rains make it a pretty good year for Iowa’s specialty crops

Rains make it a pretty good year for Iowa’s specialty crops

Thanks to intense heat and timely rains, Iowa’s vegetable and viticulture crops have thrived this growing season. However, some of the state’s fruit crops took a beating.

Growers are reporting excellent vegetable production across the state in general. Ajay Nair, Iowa State University (ISU) Extension and Outreach vegetable specialist, said everyone was skeptical about the amount of insect damage that would occur after the mild winter, but he said growers have done a "great job" managing pests.

"We really didn’t have a big outbreak of a pest that decimated the crop," Nair said. "The rains also helped keep the moisture there. We did have a short spell of heat, but with vegetables, since the crops are mostly irrigated using a drip irrigation system, the growers really didn’t have an issue."

Plentiful rainfall

Those vegetable crops that are rain-fed, such as squash, pumpkins, winter squash, peas and beans are shorter season crops and didn’t have any issues with too much or too little moisture, Nair said.

"The weather has been perfect this year," he said.

Other crops like tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers are usually grown in high tunnels, so there weren’t any issues with the rainfall or heat impacting them, he noted.

"Sweet corn has done really well across the state, too. Those early rains helped our approximately 3,000 acres of sweet corn to get established," he said.

While there’s still time for winter crops to mature, Nair said he hasn’t heard of any issues regarding moisture or pests impacting those. 

"Despite the intense heat, the rich soils really held on to the moisture that we did receive to help deter any drought-like conditions," he said.

To help the soils, a lot of growers are rotating their pumpkins with other crops and adding a cover crop in the winter, Nair said.

"If they add organic matter, that will help increase the water-holding capacity of the soil, too," he said.

Good year for grapes

The state’s viticulture crop tapped by Iowa’s 103 wineries also fared well this growing season. Mike White, ISU Extension and Outreach viticulture specialist, said he hasn’t heard of any big issues, other than the regular pests that pop up every season.

"There are Japanese beetles all over the state," he said, "But we’re just getting used to those."

Some of Iowa’s fruit crops performed well, with an anticipated bountiful apple crop this fall. But Iowa’s strawberry crop was considered quite poor this year due to the heat.

"We saw reduced strawberry yields due to more disease pressure, too," said Diana Cochran, ISU Extension and Outreach fruit specialist. "There was a few hail and heavy wind damage situations to the grapes, but they were minor compared to the overall crop. We might reach three tons per acre this year, where average yields in 2012 were around two tons."

Some vineyards in extreme northwest Iowa also received some late frost damage and the spotted wing drosophila is starting to show up in vineyards, she said.

Cherry growers reaped a solid crop in central and western Iowa. They enjoyed a "fairly long harvest with very good yields," she said. There was some frost/freeze damage to the state’s peach crop, but Cochran said it wasn’t enough to put a big dent in the total yields. Iowa’s aronia crop has performed well and apples should produce a stable crop.

"Southern Iowa orchards suffered injury in April from the hard freeze, but northern Iowa is looking fairly good with isolated areas showing frost rings," she said. "Parts of central Iowa experienced the same freeze in April, but they’ll still have a crop. There was some hail damage in central Iowa recently, but it was isolated."

Danley-Greiner is a freelance writer in Runnells.



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