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In Iowa: Dry weather this June could bring drought to the state of Iowa

Drought-stricken cornstalks are bent over Aug. 30, 2012, in a field near Swisher. Iowa was in a severe to extreme drough
Drought-stricken cornstalks are bent over Aug. 30, 2012, in a field near Swisher. Iowa was in a severe to extreme drought that year, but crop insurance covered some losses and higher corn prices made what is harvested more valuable. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

No one is mentioning the “D” word yet, but continued dry weather could change that.

As I write this on the Thursday preceding publication, with 10 virtually rain-free days behind us, the forecast calls for at least that many to come, several with high temperatures in the 90s.

“It’s likely we will go from May 29 through June 13 with only 0.02 inches rain,” KCRG-TV9 meteorologist Justin Gehrts wrote Thursday in The Gazette. Only once since 1892 has the Cedar Rapids metro area recorded a drier early June, he said.

Following a windy weekend with hot temperatures, the lack of June rain will become more obvious this week.

Most of us will notice it in crunchier lawns, dustier gravel roads and plants needing frequent watering. Farmers, those most susceptible to the vagaries of weather, will perceive in it the potential for reduced yields.

In the 2012 drought, still fresh in most Iowans’ memories, the state’s average corn and soybean yields fell, respectively, to 137 bushels and 44.5 bushels per acre — a reduction of 20 percent and 10 percent, respectively, from the average yields of the preceding four years.

Improved seed genetics and increased use of conservation tillage helped mitigate crop yield reductions and made the 2012 drought easier to bear than its predecessor in 1988.

Rising grain prices during the growing season, combined with federal crop insurance, cushioned the blow for most grain farmers, while livestock producers, for whom federal insurance was not available, suffered with hay and pasture shortages and increased costs for their principal input.

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As the drought wore on, we all became increasingly irritable, waiting for relief from torrid July heat and a refreshing of the parched landscape.

While I would never wish for a drought, I prefer my summer weather a little on the dry side.

As a home gardener, I can fix too dry but I can’t fix too wet. In fact, I have grown my best crops in the drought years of 1988, 1989 and 2012, when a seemingly unbroken succession of sunny days combined with timely watering to fuel rapid, nonstop growth.

There is much truth in the adage, “rain makes grain,” as last year will attest.

Farmers will recall 2016, with abundant rains falling before anyone noticed they were needed, as a year of record corn and soybean crops — a year of perfect weather, many of them would say.

For me it will always be the year you had to mow the lawn every five days, all summer long, and the only year in my memory in which the Wapsipinicon River never once fell to a level safe and suitable for wading anglers.

It’s not there yet, as I write this, but it is falling steadily toward that level and will likely reach it this week.

When it does, I will gladly settle for the rainfall standard preferred by most farmers — an inch a week for the remainder of the summer.

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