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Wet weather has impact on local farms

A field east of Polk City contains standing water on May 31. Flooded conditions can keep farmers from planting as well as harm crops already in the ground. Photo by Ariel CurtisBuy Photo
A field east of Polk City contains standing water on May 31. Flooded conditions can keep farmers from planting as well as harm crops already in the ground. Photo by Ariel Curtis
Water from nearby fields spilled onto the road along 305th Avenue, just east of S14 near Cambridge, last week, prompting the road to be closed. Recent rains have left standing water in many fields throughout Story County. Photo by Whitney SagerBuy Photo
Water from nearby fields spilled onto the road along 305th Avenue, just east of S14 near Cambridge, last week, prompting the road to be closed. Recent rains have left standing water in many fields throughout Story County. Photo by Whitney Sager

We’ve all heard that April showers bring May flowers. But what does all this rain in the month of May mean for local farmers?

While it may seem like rain is the only weather Iowa has had all season, ISU Extension Field Agronomist Mark Licht said that as of mid-March, Iowa was short on water and it looked to be problematic for the 2013 growing season.

“The rain was really needed; we were so far behind,” Licht said.

A slow start

According to a June 3 crop report by the Iowa Department of Agriculture, 88 percent of corn and 44 percent of soybeans had been planted by June 2. The five-year average for corn by that date is 99 percent, while soybeans have a 91-percent five-year average.

Licht said last Friday that approximately 90 percent of corn and 50 to 60 percent of soybeans had been planted in Story County. While this is ahead of Iowa as a whole, it is still behind average.

The numbers show that Iowa has gotten a slow start to the growing season, even before last week’s floods.

“We are running behind; everything is getting pushed back,” Licht said.

Problems caused by water

According to a press release by the Iowa DNR, the state had received 18.92 inches of precipitation as of May 30, a 141-year high. While some, like Licht, were glad for the reprieve from drought conditions, the moisture can cause a different set of problems.

For crops that are already planted, Licht said some plants may have a higher level of grain moisture, making them more costly and time-consuming to dry out for processing after they are harvested.

As far as those fields that looked more like lakes, there might be a few problems.

“Low-lying areas and ponded areas can rot seed and plants, especially in cooler temperatures,” Licht said. “If it’s flooded and ponded, the corn crop can take five days of being underwater before it will die.”

Periods of being underwater can stunt a crop’s growth and make seedlings more susceptible to disease. Fields that have already been plowed may form a “crust” from ¼ inch to ½ inch thick, making it difficult for recently planted crops to emerge, Licht said.

In addition, high-intensity rains can cause future problems with fields due to erosion, which also causes problems wherever the soil and sediment ends up.

While there are many potential issues caused by the recent rainfall, Licht said things should clear up and return to normal as conditions begin to dry out.

Catching up

Partially due to the soggy spring, a major concern for this growing season is planting late, which shortens the season and increases worries of frost cutting off crops before they reach maturity.

“It doesn’t necessarily indicate the best yield potential,” Licht said.

Corn crops can still be planted in the next few weeks for good yields, and soybeans through June, Licht said. Fields should soon return to conditions good enough to plant, if they haven’t already.

“There’ll be marginal conditions for a while,” Licht said.

For the farmers whose crops died or field conditions were ruined, Licht recommended putting a holding crop in to prevent bad field conditions next year.

Moving forward

According to climate prediction maps at the National Weather Service’s online Climate Prediction Center, the state of Iowa has equal chances of receiving above-normal, normal or below-normal amounts of precipitation for the remainder of the season.

The Journal attempted to contact several local farmers, but they were busy in the fields as the soil had dried out enough to continue planting.

So what does Iowa’s wacky spring weather really mean for farmers? Licht believes it is too soon to tell.

“There’s a lot of growing season to go yet.”

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