Rain hampers harvest in Eastern Iowa

Agronomists warn of higher risk of mold and fungus in fields

Corn plants stand in flood water from the swollen Iowa River in a farm field along Highway 151 south of Amana, Iowa on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Corn plants stand in flood water from the swollen Iowa River in a farm field along Highway 151 south of Amana, Iowa on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

The last week of rainstorms, some torrential, across Eastern Iowa have slowed harvest down to a halt, raising worries among crop producers about higher risks for disease in the field.

As of Tuesday morning, in only the start of the second week of the month, 2.97 inches of rain have fallen on the Cedar Rapids area, according to National Weather Service data — already more than the October average of 2.62 inches.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest crop progress report said there were only 1.6 days suitable for fieldwork last week.

That rainfall is coming on top of soil that already was soaked by 6.69 inches of rain during September — more than twice the September average for the region at 3.16 inches.

Virgil Schmitt, an Iowa State Extension agronomist in Muscatine County, said all that rain has kept farmers from getting into the fields and, more important, getting the grain into the harvester as the strength of cornstalks deteriorate.

“Stalk quality issues will make harvest slower and more difficult and increase harvest losses because corn that is on the ground cannot be recovered by the harvesting equipment,” he said.

Soybeans also are threatened by the rain, as pods that dry out in the final periods before they’re ready for harvesting could burst open and drop the beans to the ground.


The late-coming rain slowed any head start farmers in the region had, as crops were maturing weeks ahead of schedule due to a near-perfect growing season.

Erin Bowers, a researcher with the Iowa Grain Quality Initiative at Iowa State University, said chances for disease is increasing across the state in areas that have been hammered by rain, and parts of the southern portion of the state where farmers planted in drought conditions.

“This is definitely an abnormal thing this year with all that rain, and that rain is leading to an abnormal risk for a higher incidence of moldy corn and moldy grain,” she said.

Certain types of mold and fungus create mycotoxins, a subset of chemicals that can make animals and humans ill. In particular, the toxins can concentrate in distiller’s grains, a byproduct of ethanol processing which is later sold as feed to livestock producers.

“It’s pretty much impossible to get rid of them, they’re fairly stable through processing,” she said.

Soybeans exposed to disease might also lose protein content, which makes it less attractive to pork producers that mix it into their livestock feed.

That risk of disease accumulation is more acute for the Cedar Rapids area, which has multiple corn processing plants and draws grain from across the state.

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