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Crops thrive despite variable weather

Article cover photo
A shelf cloud moves along the Highway 30 corridor near Ames earlier this week. Two- to 4-inch rain events in 12 hour periods were common for the northern half of the state this week adding more water to already flooded fields. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Matthew Wilde, ISA senior writer

For many Iowa farmers, 2018 is a fairy-tale growing season — which can be good or bad depending on location.

In the northern tier of Iowa, many fields are too wet. In the southern counties, fields are too dry. For much of the rest of the state, soil moisture levels are just right.

But unlike Goldilocks, farmers can’t run away. They make the best of field and weather conditions.

More than 80 percent of the state’s row crops are rated in good to excellent condition, according to Monday’s weekly U.S. Department of Agriculture Iowa Crop Progress and Condition Report. Adequate moisture and recent above-normal temperatures spurred crop development.

Too much or not enough precipitation, though, continues to plague many Iowa farmers.

“It’s been a weird year for weather,” said Mark Licht, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach cropping systems agronomist. “Southern Iowa farmers say give us more rain while those in northern Iowa want it to shut off. It’s a tale of two states in some respects.”

Yield losses are anticipated in the north. April snowstorms and May showers delayed planting. June downpours continue to hamper spraying and may cause disease problems.

Abnormally dry to severe drought conditions exist in the southern three tiers of Iowa counties, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor.

Chuck White, who farms near Spencer, hopes Mother Nature turns off the spigot soon. Future yields depend on it.

The Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) District 1 director said 30 inches of snow in April and 6 inches of rain in May kept seed from getting in the ground in a timely manner. Four inches of rain in June, with several more in the forecast for the rest of the week, make it hard to side-dress corn and spray weeds.

At this point, White thinks he will be lucky if soybeans average in the low 60s per acre. That’s about 10 bushels less than he was hoping for, if the rest of the season goes perfectly.

“It’s been a tough go, but the crops are hanging in there so far,” White said. “The additional rainfall this week is a concern. I’m dealing with ponding, nitrogen loss and I’m afraid some weeds may get too tall to spray or weed escapes could occur.

“Some of the soybeans aren’t even a foot tall,” he added. “Yields will be compromised.”

Storm clouds gather over a soybean field near Lacona. Randy Miller, ISA District 8 director, is content with the moisture in his fields as his crops near the halfway point of the growing season. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

Soybeans don’t like wet feet, Licht said. Saturated soils can hinder root development. Ponding impairs water and nutrient uptake. The agronomist said soybeans can only survive a few days submerged, possibly longer partially submerged.

Licht said hot, humid and wet conditions spur soybean diseases such as white mold, phytophthora root and stem rot, frogeye leaf spot and brown spot.

“Diseases could be a problem,” White said. “I will try to control with fungicides to get the best yield possible.”

All but 3 percent of the state’s soybeans have emerged as of Sunday, the report said. That’s two weeks ahead of average. The crop is rated 1 percent very poor, 2 percent poor, 17 percent fair, 59 percent good and 21 percent excellent.

The report said virtually all of Iowa’s corn has emerged. The crop is rated 1 percent very poor, 2 percent poor, 13 percent fair, 60 percent good and 24 percent excellent.

Statewide, the report said 4.7 days were suitable for fieldwork last week. Severe storms interfered with re-planting and applying post-emergent herbicides.

“Several storm systems moved through the state last week and brought some needed precipitation. Unfortunately, we also saw severe weather and flooding as a result of some of the storms,” Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig said in a statement. “In general, crops continue to be in very good condition.”

ISA District 4 Director Jeff Frank of Auburn has no complaints. His fields have a full soil moisture profile heading into the critical crop reproduction period, but not too much water.

Soybeans are starting to bloom, Frank said, and corn should start tasseling in about two weeks.

“We’re in good shape, but not too far to the east there’s a lot of water standing,” he continued. “In my opinion we should have a really good harvest if we avoid bad weather.”

The report said topsoil and subsoil moisture levels rated short and very short increased in south central Iowa last week to 56 percent and 71 percent, respectively. In southeast Iowa, topsoil and subsoil moisture is rated 59 percent short and 66 percent very short, respectively.

“Some abnormally dry areas in the south may disappear this week,” Licht said.

Contract Matthew Wilde at

For media inquiries, please contact Aaron Putze, ISA Communications Director at

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