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The heat is on for area farmers

Between a rainy June and a sweltering start to July, ISU Extension agronomist says there are challenges for crops

By Bob Fenske, Of the Nashua Reporter

It’s kind of like the story about the three bears; but instead of being too hot or too cold, it’s been too rainy or too dry for area farmers.

“A lot of places in this neck of the world got almost too much rain in June, and now all of a sudden, the tap went dry,” said ISU Extension Agronomist Terry Basol, who is based at the Northeast Research and Demonstration Farm near Nashua.

“We could use a nice, all-day rain, or at least some moisture — just not the pouring buckets kind, you know?” he said.

Basol, however, said most area farm fields are holding their own despite some challenges from nature early in the growing season.

Although planting went off without a hitch this year, many areas in this region received more than double the normal rainfall in June.

Charles City received almost 9 inches in June, according to the National Weather service. The normal for the month is about 5¼ inches. But as of Tuesday, the last significant rainfall was on June 22, more than two weeks ago, when 2.44 inches fell.

“The funny thing is there are parts of Iowa that would kill to have had a June like we did,” Basol said, pointing out that a large swath of southwestern Iowa has been classified as abnormally dry by the U.S. Drought Monitor. “That rain has really helped us get through this.”

He said the beginning of July has provided other challenges beside the lack of rain.

Temperatures have been above average at the beginning of the month, and highs in the upper 80s and low 90s remain in the forecast at least through the beginning of next week and maybe longer.

“You can see in the lighter soils that some plants are becoming stressed because it’s been a little too hot,” he said, “but for the most part, we’re hanging in there.”

Basol said the next couple of weeks will be critical for Northeast Iowa farmers because corn will begin to silk and tassel.

“That’s why we don’t want them to have a lot of stress,” he said, “and they can get stressed from not enough moisture and too much heat. But like I said, that rain in June … it might have seemed like a little too much then, but it’s definitely bought us some time.”

The June rain, though, did adversely affect soybean fields.

“When you get too much rain it’s almost like the soybean fields are saying, ‘OK, I’m going to shut down until things get back to normal,’” Basol said. “Now, saying all of that, we still have the potential for a very good crop. Guys are used to having challenges, but they’ll tell you, a nice rain and a little cooler temperatures would be greatly appreciated.”

According to the USDA’s weekly crop report, 90 percent of the state’s north central ag district that includes Floyd County had adequate or surplus topsoil moisture and 93 percent had adequate or surplus subsoil moisture. In southwest Iowa, almost a third of fields are “short” and “very short” when it comes to topsoil moisture.

As of the beginning of the week, 47% of soybeans in the north central district were blooming, well ahead of last year and also ahead of the five-year average. Only 2% of corn was silking, also ahead of last year, but behind the five-year average.

Across the state, 85% of the corn crop was listed as good to excellent, and 84% of the state soybean crop was good to excellent.

— Bob Steenson contributed to this report.