Field flooded in Iowa

(Photo: Iowa Soybean Association / Joclyn Bushman)

From drought to deluge: farmers weigh in on planting progress

May 9, 2024 | Kriss Nelson

Farmers from around the state report that although fieldwork is at an indefinite standstill, they remain optimistic and overall thankful for the precipitation after several years of drought conditions.

According to the latest Iowa Crop Progress and Conditions report, released by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, soybean planting progress fell behind the previous year with a total of 30% of the expected soybean crop planted, two days behind last year. Progress for corn planting went from being ahead of average to lagging two days behind both last year and the five-year average at 47% of that crop planted.

Weather outlook

 According to Iowa State Climatologist Justin Glisan, the six to ten-day weather outlook shows an elevated chance for warmer temperatures and near-normal rainfall, just in a less active pattern than we have seen over the past few weeks.

Going out two weeks, Glisan says the signal for elevated temperatures remains, which could help dry soils before another elevated signal for above-average precipitation is expected.

“There is a window that looks like planters should be able to get back into the field in the next few weeks,” says Glisan.

After the warmest and second dryest February on record in 152 years, Glisan says the 2024 winter, from the start of December to the end of February was among the top five warmest.

“With the lack of frost, the snow melt helped with some soil rebounding in January, but it was lost again with those dry temperatures in February,” he says.

April’s weather was active, not only bringing precipitation but 56 tornadoes, breaking the previous record of 40 tornadoes. So far, it appears May is following suit.

Although fieldwork was delayed, the above-average precipitation across the state last month improved drought conditions. This is a welcome site, Glisan says, after 201 consecutive weeks of drought in parts of Iowa.

“I would have liked to see farmers get the crops planted, but with our record drought, we need the moisture for the growing season,” says Glisan.

Especially with the potential for warmer temperatures this summer.

“When you look at past events of the late 1990s and 2016, which also transitioned from a strong El Niño like this winter to a potentially weak or moderate La Niña in the summer, we see a warmer signal,” he says. “Any moisture we can bank now will help.”

Has the recent rain moved Iowa out of drought classification?

Glisan says the drought monitor reflects long-term impacts. Shallow wells, aquifers, etc., have been under a lot of stress, and it takes up to a decade to replenish available water supplies.

“We are chipping away at some of those significant drought areas; the trend is in the right direction,” says Glisan. “But with over three and a half years of drought, it takes a while for those longer-term deficits to show improvement.”


Planting progress update

Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) farmers give their perspective on their area’s planting progress or lack thereof.

Northwest Iowa

 Brent Swart, ISA president-elect from the northwest area of the state, reports that fieldwork near Spencer has stopped. He has finished planting 45% of his soybeans and 30% of his corn.

“We had some excessive rainfall of five to seven inches quickly. Rivers and streams are out of their banks. The work will remain at a standstill until the drainage systems catch up and we get some sun, wind and heat. Initially, the dry conditions took the first few inches of rain well, but the last two big rains have been too much. Ideal conditions were met when planting began during the second week of April, but now it will require a lot of time and patience. Some farmers have not started yet, and those who have are around 30-40% done with planting corn and beans.

Central Iowa

 James Hepp, from Rockwell City in Calhoun County, says he waited for warmer temperatures before planting corn but has some acres of soybeans in the ground.

“I was worried about the 30-degree temperatures we had this spring. Because of bad weather and equipment breakdowns, I’ve only planted about a quarter of my soybeans so far. However, the rain has been good, and I am seeing good infiltration on my no-till and strip-till acres. I plan to switch to planting corn and then return to soybeans when the conditions improve. The planting in my area has been all over the place. Some farmers started with beans on April 15th and then moved on to corn, while others planted corn first. Some of those crops are emerging; although some don’t look great, they should recover. I’ve been traveling to the Minneapolis area to get parts, and I’ve noticed Calhoun and Webster County areas have the most crops planted. We’ll see how it goes – by August, it could stop raining. It’s been a strange season, and we don’t know what to expect.”

Southeast Iowa

In the state’s southeast corner, Michael Fosdick of Sperry in Des Moines County says nearly 8 inches of rain have prevented him from making progress in the fields.

“Many others in the area are facing the same issue. At this point, more beans are in the ground than corn. In April, I received 7.7 inches of rain, averaging almost two inches of rain each week. Every time I would get close to being able to do something, it would start raining again. Despite the challenges, I remain optimistic that I will have a window of opportunity next week. As an agronomist, I have noticed that farmers are sticking to their plans, such as hybrid selection, since it is still early in the planting season. Those who have planted are discussing replanting, but it has not been significant so far. Some farmers have run rotary hoes over the planted corn to help break up the crust so it will hopefully emerge.”

Southern Iowa

Southern Iowa farmer Doug Kent says planting progress varies in and around Corydon in Wayne County.

“Some of the planting is half done, some have not been started yet, and some have made progress. Our beans are half done, but the corn has not been planted yet. However, it is okay since it has rained a lot recently. There was five inches of rain last weekend on top of the rainfall this week, so the ground is soaked. It may take a while before we can plant, but we are not worried because we have experienced this before. In the past, I planted corn in June, which has done pretty well, so I am not afraid to wait patiently until the conditions are right. I am thankful for the rain because the ponds were getting dry. We are wet and waiting, but getting ready to hit it hard when we can plant.”

Western Iowa

 Michael Ruffcorn from Mondamin in Harrison County says planting had been going well until more than 11 inches of rain fell the past two weeks.

“We made good progress initially, but after a couple of weeks, nobody has been able to work in the fields because of the heavy rainfall. The rain could stop anytime now, but two weeks ago, we were worried because we were planting in dust. Luckily, we had some moisture in the top few inches to help get the seeds started. However, this would have been a scary planting season for us if this rain hadn’t happened. Many farmers in our area started planting corn on the crop insurance date, and I estimate that about 70% of the corn is planted, and almost 30% of the soybeans are planted. Unfortunately, we will have to do quite a bit of replanting now. I haven’t started planting soybeans yet, but I am 85% done with planting corn, and there could be 100 acres of corn that will need to be replanted. I am starting to prepare my crop insurance claims now, so they are ready to go when the conditions improve.”

Northeast Iowa

 Charles Albrecht of Readlyn in Bremer County says it has been more than 10 days since farmers have done any work in his area.

“Conditions were improving earlier this week before more rain fell. It is wonderful to have rain and to see the tiles running. Overall, moods are better because of the rain. I have been told we have had more rain in the past three weeks than we received during the growing season last year, including six to seven inches of rain in the past 10 days. In my area, planting is about half done, except for some farmers who put off planting because they wanted rain first. The tenants renting my farm are nearly half done planting corn and half done with soybeans. One of my fields is no-till with a winter wheat and cereal rye cover crop going into soybeans. The cereal rye is waist tall and is as healthy as I have seen. We are looking forward to a nice biomass mat this year. Something we have been waiting for.”