Cooler summer in Iowa affects farmers, utilities, swimming pools

Temps help produce bumper corn, soybean crop

Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette

A farmer plants in a field along 140th St. NW near the intersection with Chambers Avenue NW in rural Amana in this May 6 photo.
Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette A farmer plants in a field along 140th St. NW near the intersection with Chambers Avenue NW in rural Amana in this May 6 photo.

CEDAR RAPIDS — Unless you are selling ice, managing a pool or growing tomatoes, you probably like Iowa’s no-sweat summer.

Chronic weather critics, who’ve been deprived of “too hot, too humid” complaints, might find fault with the Indian summer-like conditions that have prevailed since late June.

But electricity consumers, farmers and people who work and play outdoors find the summer of 2014 a refreshing change of pace.

Iowa’s July temperature averaged 69 degrees — 4.6 degrees below normal — ranking it as the fifth-coolest July among 142 years of state records, and that trend has continued. The first three weeks of August registered 1.7 degrees cooler than normal.

In Cedar Rapids and many other Eastern Iowa communities, including Dubuque and Burlington, the mercury has yet to reach 90 degrees, a condition that would be unprecedented if it continues for the remainder of the year, State Climatologist Harry hillaker said Thursday.

The fewest 90-degree days ever recorded in Cedar Rapids is three, he said.

Home air-conditioning requirements, as estimated by July cooling degree day totals, averaged 40 percent less than last July and 45 percent less than normal, according to Hillaker.

But how that translates into consumer savings remains to be seen, according to Alliant Energy spokeswoman Heather Holmes.

With July billings still in process, Alliant cannot yet quantify the savings customers will realize through reduced air-conditioner usage, Holmes said.

Good for corn

For farmers, the cool, nearly stress-free summer has helped produce bumper crops of corn and soybeans.

The Department of Agriculture predicts Iowa corn production at a record 2.44 billion bushels, with a 185 bushels-per-acre average yield. That would surpass by three bushels the previous state average high, set in 2009, which also was characterized by a cool growing season.

“In general, the cool weather has been beneficial for corn. Right now it looks like we will be close to an all-time good crop,” said Roger Zylstra, president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association.

Zylstra, who farms between Newton and Grinnell, explained that the cool July was ideal for pollination, which determines the crop’s yield potential.

But if the cool weather continues, it may delay maturity, which would mean additional expense to dry the crop, he said. Delayed maturity also increases farmers’ concerns about an early frost, Zylstra said.

Soybeans “don’t like the cool weather as well as corn and need more heat units this month to finish filling the pods,” said Roger Van Ersvelde, who raises both corn and soybeans near Brooklyn.

August, he said, is the “make or break” month for soybeans.

“We could use another 5 to 7 degrees on the daily high temperatures for the next few weeks,” Van Ersvelde said.

Pat Reeg, director of the Iowa Soybean Association’s On Farm Network, said this year’s cool summer “has probably helped us more than it has hurt us.”

Soybean disease and insect problems are less prevalent and severe in cool weather, he said.

Garden produce has fared well in the cool summer with the exception of tomatoes, whose maturity has been delayed.

“Field-grown tomatoes have been a week or two slower than usual this summer,” said Mike Krogh, produce coordinator for New Pioneer Co-op in Iowa City.

Jason Grimm, food systems planner for Iowa Valley Resource Conservation and Development, described the growing season as “above average” overall, with tomatoes and peppers the notable exceptions, both being later than usual.

“Tomatoes are the big thing we get calls about — when are they going to get ripe?” said Thea Cole, a Linn County Extension master gardener.

“Tomatoes like it hot both day and night, and we just have not had that this summer,” she said.

The cool weather also has cut attendance at area swimming pools.

“We haven’t done the numbers yet, but the overall perception is that attendance is down,” Cedar Rapids Aquatics Manager Carolyn Hamilton said.

It’s not that the water is too cool for comfort — city pools are heated to a constant temperature. People just don’t get the same urge to go swimming when outdoor temperatures are lower, Hamilton said.

Nor do they get the urge to load up an ice chest with liquid refreshments, said Dave Potter, a spokesman for Arctic Glacier Premium Ice, which has manufacturing plants in Dubuque and Ames and distribution centers in Cedar Rapids and five other Iowa cities.

“The ideal temperature for ice sales is the low 90s. If it gets much hotter, people stay in the air conditioning. Much cooler, and they are a lot less thirsty,” Potter said.

The ice that is sold melts more slowly in cool weather, further cutting demand, he said.

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