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Flooding threatens Iowa corn, soybean crops

Crops under water could be counted as contaminated

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Recent heavy rains and flooding have damaged and destroyed crops and waterlogged the soil, threatening to delay and prolong the harvest.

“The longer it stays in the fields, the higher the risk of field loss” caused by moldy ears, dropped ears and fallen stalks, Iowa State University Extension corn specialist Mark Licht said.

Licht said the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Aug. 12 projection of a record 197-bushels-per acre Iowa corn yield will fail to materialize.

“Field losses will go up, bringing those numbers down,” he said.

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey said it’s too soon to tell how the recent inclement weather will affect yields.

But in recently inundated fields, moldy grain and weakened stalks will reduce both the quantity and quality of the harvest, Licht said.

“If the (corn) ears and (soybean) pods were under water, that would likely be considered adulterated grain, contaminated by bacteria or farm chemicals, which cannot be sold or fed to livestock,” he said.

Under federal crop insurance programs, adulterated grain would be considered a complete loss, for which farmers would be compensated by their insurance, he said.

In addition, soggy fields will delay the harvest and worsen mold and stalk problems, Northey said.

Both Licht and Northey said patience will be required to keep anxious farmers from entering their fields too soon.

Heavy equipment on saturated fields will compact the soil, reducing productivity for years to come, Licht said.

Referring to the likelihood that many heavy combines, tractors and grain carts will get stuck in the mud during harvest, Northey quipped that log chain salespeople could have a good quarter.

‘It’s really bad’

Rainfall has been above normal and at times excessive in northeast Iowa since June, according to State Climatologist Harry Hillaker. That trend worsened in September when downpours on saturated soil twice pushed area rivers beyond flood stage.

While the statewide average rainfall for September stood Monday at 6.29 inches — well above the 3.38-inch average for the entire month of September — the monthly rainfall averages for the northeast and north-central regions stood at 9.21 inches and 10.1 inches, respectively, Hillaker said.

Through Monday, Charles City’s September rainfall totaled 15.83 inches, Hillaker said.

More than a foot of rain fell last Wednesday and Thursday on parts of Butler and Floyd counties, causing both flash flooding and flooding on the Cedar, Wapsipinicon and other area rivers.

“On the lowland bottom ground, there is a lot of crop damage. It’s really bad,” said Jay Jung, a farmer and Farm Bureau Financial Services agent in Charles City, one of the northeast Iowa areas hardest hit by last week’s heavy rains.

On two fields north of Charles City, where 10 inches of rain fell last week, Jung said. “I’ve got kernels sprouting on the ears. It’s terrible.”

“By comparison, we are in good shape,” said Iowa Corn Growers Association Vice President Mark Recker, who farms near Arlington, Fayette County, where four to five inches of rain fell on his fields last week.

“We are not inundated. We should be back in the fields by late Wednesday,” Recker said.

Iowa Corn Growers Association Chairman Bob Hemesath, who farms near Decorah, said he has weathered “four different rain events of at least four inches this year.”

His biggest concern, he said, is corn root and stalk damage, and whether the crop will remain upright until it is harvested.

‘It’s still September’

Most farmers have never seen such flooding in the fall when their crops are ready to be harvested, said Dennis Lindsay, an Iowa Soybean Association District Advisory Council member.

The 6.5 inches that fell on his Masonville farm last week drove Prairie Creek from its banks, covering a soybean field and flattening more than 25 acres where the current was swiftest, Lindsay said.

Despite that loss, Lindsay said, “It’s still September. If the weather turns nice, we are going to be all right.”

Optimal harvesting of soybeans requires both dry fields and a moisture content in the 13 percent range — conditions that may be especially difficult to attain simultaneously this fall, according to Grant Kimberley, director of market development for the Iowa Soybean Association.

The longer mature soybeans remain unharvested, the greater the risk the pods will split, spilling beans on the ground, Kimberley said.

For all of The Gazette's Flood 2016 coverage, please visit our flood coverage center.

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