A soybean field near Cherokee

This soybean field near Cherokee shows that harvest will be here soon. ISA farmer members report varying crop conditions in the state. (Photo: Joclyn Bushman/Iowa Soybean Association)

Drought to deluge: crop conditions vary across the state

September 2, 2021 | Kriss Nelson

There is never a perfect growing season and some question what “normal” may be. One thing is for sure, 2021 has been neither normal nor perfect for many Iowa soybean farmers.

David Rossman

From what could be considered an ideal start to the growing season, to an unexpected frost, dry weather and now some diseases, the growing season for David Rossman of Hartley has kept him on his toes.

“We had an early start followed by some extreme cold,” Rossman said. “It was so cold that some emerged soybeans in no-till fields were actually killed by the frost.”

The rains they have received on their O’Brien County farm have been far from consistent.

“The rains have been probably the spottiest I have ever seen in my 40 years,” he said. “There are parts of bean fields that on light soils are actually already brown, and not from maturity, but dying. You can go two to three miles away and everything looks green and beautiful.”

With a fluctuating year of a variety of conditions, Rossman anticipates harvest to begin around the third week of September with soybean yields averaging in the 55 to 65 bushels-per-acre range.

“We are starting to get a few diseases showing up and as long as they don’t get worse, they (the soybeans) will be ok,” he said. “Harvest will be variable with a capital V.”

Rossman said there is some evidence of disease which is not what producers were expecting this year. In addition to some Sudden Death Syndrome affecting soybeans, there has also been white mold.

“That was surprising with the drought, but we had a couple of rains that came during a time with also a lot of dew,” he said. “It is not severe, but just enough to make you frown.”

Lee Brooke

Page County resident Lee Brooke of Clarinda said he feels very fortunate for how the growing season is going for him in the southwest area of the state.

“We started out with a good spring,” said Brook, who will be taking the helm as the ISA district 7 director next week during the ISA board meeting. “We started planting in April and finished up planting beans in early May. We had good weather during planting.”

Brooke said they harvested rye mid-May and immediately planted soybeans on that ground. Rainfall has allowed those soybeans to get off to a great start and they are catching up to his earlier planted crop. He says the later-planted crop might yield close to the earlier-planted soybeans.

After a drier spring, Brooke said there has been timely rains thereafter – especially recently.

“We have been very fortunate for late season rains,” he said. “I feel very lucky it will finish out beans.”

Brooke said first on their agenda for fall work will be chopping silage and planting rye. He foresees harvest beginning in a few weeks on some high moisture corn acres and is hopeful soybeans will be ready for harvest by the first of October.

Brooke is optimistic about yields in his area. Early kernel counts on corn are estimating over 200 bushels an acre and soybeans are expected to be above 60 bushels an acre.

“I am fairly confident we will have just as good or better yields than we had last year,” he said.

The growing season did not come without some difficulty. Brooke said this was his first year he has had to spray his alfalfa for army worms.

Paula Ellis

Where drought has stricken a large portion of the state, it is a different scenario for Paula and Jeff Ellis of Donnellson in Lee County.

“We are unique in the state this year,” Paula said. “It’s not a very big pocket, but in our corner of southeast Iowa, overall, the fields are looking good.”

They started planting soybeans on April 24 and completed that task in early May. They started planting corn, and that’s when the rains hit.

“We finally ended up getting back into the fields in June and we had to replant all our corn,” she said. A small number of soybean acres also had to be replanted.

Rains have continued throughout the growing season. Jeff, who runs a custom spraying business, made his final pass of herbicide applications the third week of August.

Currently, Ellis said they are experiencing a slight dry spell, but does not expect that to affect their yields.

“We are being very optimistic about the beans,” she said. “They are podded up and loaded up with pods. If we get these timely showers, I think they could really fill out and do pretty good.”

Ellis is anticipating harvest will be in full force by the end of September. Early yield estimates are expected to average 60 bushels an acre.

Reed Burres

Some late-season rainfalls may have brought some relief to Reed Burres’ soybean crop in Humboldt.

“We were skeptical before some recent rainfalls,” the north central Iowa farmer said.

Rainfall improved his outlook on soybean yields, which he expects to yield about average.”

A rain in the third week of August brought 3.5 inches. Burres said wind accompanied the rain, which flattened portions in one of his corn fields.

The rain, however, might have been too late for some of their sandier areas of the fields. Those areas are showing signs of an early harvest – possibly the second week of September with some end rows of corn potentially ready to combine at that time as well.

Previously, Burres said they have harvested their cereal rye, oats, and also experimented with barley this year.

Suzanne Shirbroun

Most of the season has been on the dry side for ISA District 3 Director Suzanne Shirbroun’s family farm near Farmersburg in Clayton County. Fortunately, the season started with a reasonable amount of subsoil moisture.

Once they completed their planting, they were hit with two bouts of frost when temperatures plummeted to 28 degrees in May.

Shirbroun said rains for the rest of the season were sparce, but the comment was often made that considering the lack of moisture, the crops looked decent – something she attributes to today’s seed traits.

“Where we are located, this drought is comparable to 1988. In 1988 the corn never got to my shoulders,” she said. “Everything was infested with spider mites and there wasn’t a decent yield. It was pretty bad. That was 1988 and now we are in 2021. Technology and genetics have improved. It is pretty amazing.”

Last week, there was a weather event Shirbroun labels a “drought buster.” Although they only received 3 inches of rain, parts of neighboring counties received up to 15 inches. In Shirbroun’s case, their corn is leaning, but others weren’t as fortunate.

Shirbroun said crops near Bremer, Clarksville and Tripoli appear to be a complete loss.

“With the drought situation, the yields were going to be down to start with, but with the decent price, we were hoping to make up for some of that,” she said. “Some individuals won’t even have that.”

The dry conditions, she expects, has pushed their harvest up by 10 days making an anticipated harvest to begin mid-September.

As far as yields, it is anyone’s guess.

“We had two bouts of frost, then we had a drought and now we have leaning corn,” she said. “It is really going to be hard to push an average. Depending on your soil type, there can be quite a bit of variability from farm to farm and even field to field.”

Iowa Crop and Conditions Report

The weekly Iowa Crop and Conditions Report for the week ending Aug. 29 said the majority of the topsoil and subsoil moisture levels are still lacking in the state, despite recent rainfall.

According to the report, topsoil moisture levels rated 14% very short, 30% short, 52% adequate and 4% surplus. Subsoil moisture levels rated 20% very short, 41% short, 38% adequate and 1% surplus.
The report said 18% of the state’s soybean crop have reached coloring or beyond, which is two days ahead of the five-year average. There were also scattered reports of soybeans dropping leaves.

Soybean conditions were rated 60% good to excellent.