In need of water

Saturday, July 14, 2012
Paul Kassel examines corn in eastern Clay County. The Iowa State University Extension field agronomist said farms with light soil, such as in the eastern and western edges of Clay County, are in need of rain within a week, whereas much of the area has enough moisture for about two weeks. Rainfall is especially important when corn is pollinating, as it is above. (Photo by Gabe Licht)

The word drought has been thrown around throughout the nation and state as of late, but one local agronomist believes that word does not apply to much of northwest Iowa.

"I think that word gets overused," said Paul Kassel, of Iowa State University Extension. "If you're on a field with light soil, it probably is drought conditions, but not for everyone else."

Most crops in northwestern Iowa have handled the recent 90 and 100-plus-degree days admirably, he said, due to the rich top soil they enjoy.

Throughout the state, 82 percent of corn was rated fair to excellent, as of July 9, and that number is 85 percent for soybeans. However, nearly 49 percent of pasture ground is rated poor or very poor.

Though Iowa State does not track precipitation in Clay County, area totals show those corn and soybean percentages have been achieved in much drier conditions in 2012, than was the case in 2011.

From July 16, 2011, through Thursday, July 12, Sioux Rapids was 8.25 inches below average, Estherville was 9 inches off the average pace and Storm Lake trailed the average by 13.6 inches. Further east, the epidemic was more evident, with Forest City's rainfall 16.1 inches less than average.

"Typically, we get 30 inches in a year," Kassel noted.

Forest City has received 5.4 inches of rain since April 23, while 6.6 and 9.6 inches fell over Storm Lake and Sioux Rapids, respectively.

Paltry moisture numbers have resulted in abundant amounts of stress.

While having 25 to 30 stress-degree days is the norm, area totals range from 90 to 132.

"We have a much higher level of stresses this year compared to last year," Kassel said.

For corn, that typically means temperatures above 86 degrees, which have been the norm for much of the summer.

At the same time, crop development is about two weeks ahead of schedule, which means corn is and has been pollinating.

"It does all pollinate, but if there are stressful conditions, the ears won't fill out," Kassel said.

Soybeans, on the other hand, are not as determinate, as they bloom, set pods and fill between early July and late August.

"If it sets a pod, it can fill it now, or in a couple weeks," Kassel said.

In this critical time for crops, some farmers are worried not only about stress, but also about potential damages from using herbicides.

"That's not an issue because it's Roundup Ready," Kassel said. "Herbicide used to burn crops and weeds, but doesn't anymore. However, there is a concern if there are really dry conditions because weeds don't take herbicide in as well."

Kassel said that's not a primary concern for those farming in sub-par soils.

"Even the weeds are dying there."

According to the five-day forecast, with no rain predicted and highs ranging from 88 to 102 degrees, that will continue to be the case.

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