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Wet weather adds to adversity for Iowa farmers

Rains, floods, cool temps set planting behind schedule

FILE: Cows walk through floodwater at Kroul Farms south of Mount Vernon on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
FILE: Cows walk through floodwater at Kroul Farms south of Mount Vernon on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — For Iowa farmers, the planting season pain is real with no relief in sight.

It has been a wet, cool May so far in Iowa, and that has had a detrimental impact as farmers try to get their corn and soybeans in the ground.

Iowa corn growers had 70 percent of their expected crop planted as of May 19, the most recent data available from the federal agriculture department show. But that is more than a week behind the five-year average and the lowest percentage of the crop planted by that point in 24 years, the data show.

Planting of the state’s soybean crop also is more than a week behind the five-year average.

Persistent rain and cool temperatures have left much of Iowa’s fields unsuitable for planting. And the weather issues come at an already difficult time for Iowa farmers, who face market pressures from international trade disputes and weakened enforcement of the ethanol mandate.

Rick Juchems, who grows corn and soybeans on his farm near Plainfield in Bremer County, said he has about two-thirds of his corn planted. He said in a normal year he already would be done planting corn.

“It’s piling up. There’s not a whole lot we can do about it. There are a few things we can’t control: the markets and the weather,” Juchems said. “It just adds to the weight of doing business, I guess, as a farmer.”

From April 24 to May 23, roughly two-thirds of Iowa counties have experienced average temperatures 4 to 6 degrees lower than normal, and even more of the state has experienced precipitation up to 3 inches more than normal, according to climate data from the state agriculture department.

It’s even wetter in southeast Iowa, where roughly a dozen counties have experienced precipitation between 3 and 6 inches above normal, according to state data.

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“We are super saturated. Every time we get a tenth of an inch of rain, it looks like 2 inches because there’s nowhere for it to go,” said Wayne Humphreys, president of the Iowa Corn Promotion Board and a corn and soybean farmer in Louisa County in southeast Iowa.

Mike Naig, the state ag secretary, said Northern Iowa also has experienced significant delays, and some farmers near the Missouri River in western Iowa still are reeling from devastation brought by March floods.

“It has been a challenging year. There’s no doubt about that in terms of the weather,” Naig said during recording for the current episode of “Iowa Press” on Iowa Public Television. “There is no doubt that the weather has impacted the progress of getting corn and soybeans in the ground this year.”

Farmers say their land needs a string of consecutive days with warmer temperatures and less or no precipitation in order to give the land a chance to dry sufficiently.

The short-term forecast is not encouraging for farmers looking for a break. The National Weather Service forecast storms and potential flooding over the Memorial Day weekend, especially in southeast Iowa.

“The seven-day forecast is inconsistent with dry weather. That scenario, I think, is quickly going away,” said Craig Hill, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau. “It could have been that things opened up with the wind and sun and dried out (the land) by the first of June and we could have had most of our acres planted. I think that scenario is fading away rapidly.”

Hill said farmers can cope with droughts better than the wet weather. He said the highest crop insurance compensation in Iowa came after the 1993 floods.

“There’s just so many perils to wet weather,” Hill said. “When you have persistent wet weather, shallow roots, poor growing conditions ... the plant doesn’t grew well. Those are the years we have our most impaired yields.”

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As the days pass and the weather fails to cooperate, farmers face a decision whether to plant soybeans instead of corn or take advantage of a crop insurance provision, called prevented planting, which covers planting delayed by extreme weather. The program’s deadline for corn growers is this Friday. .

Officials said farmers will have to make economic decisions whether to forge ahead and plant as soon and as best they can or convert to a different crop, possibly risking their output come harvest, or take advantage of the prevented planning provision.

“It is a situation that is not only limiting our prospective yield, it may eliminate acres from ever being planted,” Hill said. “We’ll go through the Memorial Day holiday, and next week if the soil is saturated and there’s standing water or more rain, for a lot of producers the decision will be made to forego planting on those acres.”

Juchems said at this point he’s just hoping for average corn and bean crops. He said in his area there is very little crown growing, which puts that growth at least two weeks behind schedule.

“We could use two weeks of nice weather,” Juchems said. “The ground is so saturated. Even if the top dries out; it can be gray on top and you dig down an inch or two and it’s just pure mud underneath. All spring it really hasn’t been fit to be out there” in the fields.”

Humphreys also said at this point it will take more than just a couple of nice weather days to get the soil where it needs to be. And, he said, the longer farmers have to wait to get their crop in the ground, the more their entire operation gets backed up.

“This will be a season of perpetually catching up,” Humphreys said. “Farmers are going to find themselves 10 days or two weeks behind in all of the operations they’re accustomed to doing during the planting season. ...

“There’s an avalanche of duties that get backed up into the very few good days that we get.”

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