While crop conditions stabilize, corn and soybean yield is expected to drop from previous years


Corn field
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Elyse Gabor | September 21, 2022

Iowa’s harvest season is here. After a summer full of droughts and unstable crop conditions, experts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have rated more than 60% of the corn as good.  

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig, said, “Despite widespread rainfall over the weekend, we anticipate unseasonably warm and dry weather will continue through the end of September, setting up ideal conditions as harvest activities ramp up.” 

The past summers have brought droughts, affecting crop conditions. Last year, 58% of the corn was rated as good. Soybean crop conditions are higher than the previous year, with over 60% of the crop rated as good.  

Southeast Iowa has experienced the worst of the drought. The state is the driest it has been in a year, with the U.S. drought monitor rating the driest places in Iowa as in “extreme” drought.  

Although current corn conditions are better than 2021’s harvest season, the USDA said that Iowa’s corn productions are down about 2.5% from last year. Soybean production is projected to be down almost 5% from last year.  

Drought Worsens Crop Conditions in Southern Iowa


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Josie Taylor | August 16, 2022

The percentage of Iowa’s corn and soybeans rated good or excellent declined at least 7 points last week, the largest such drop this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The latest USDA report said 66% of the state’s corn and 63% of soybeans were good or excellent, down from 73% and 71% a week ago.

Widespread moderate to severe drought conditions are affecting southern Iowa, where the available soil moisture for crops is dwindling. Less than 10% of topsoil and subsoil in southwest Iowa has adequate moisture, according to the USDA.

In northeast Iowa, 90% of the soil has adequate or surplus water. In the past two weeks, northeast Iowa has had above-average rainfall and southwest has been abnormally dry.

The state as a whole received less than half the rainfall of what is typically expected last week and less than half the state has adequate soil moisture.

The area of worst drought is still in northwest Iowa near Sioux City.

Midwest corn sweat, extra air moisture is harming crops


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Grace Smith | August 12, 2022

Corn sweat, a term referred to as plants giving off water through evapotranspiration, is increasing moisture in Midwest air, which is harming crops. The humidity in the air can increase temperatures between five and 15 degrees Fahrenheit over corn fields during mid-July and August.  

Iowa harvested over 13.1 million acres of corn and produced 2.58 billion bushels in 2019. One acre of corn can give off up to 4,000 gallons of water per day, contributing to extreme humidity, or, corn sweat. 

Midwest humidity isn’t just caused by corn sweat. Climate change has pushed the global surface temperature in 2022 to become the sixth hottest June in 143 years, being 1.57 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average. In addition, humidity is accounting for warmer nights because the extra moisture makes it more challenging for temperatures to shift higher or lower.

This corn sweat and increased temperatures from climate change create a possible breeding area for pathogens and pests near growing plants and grain, according to the 2018 National Climate Assessment. Bacteria can cause crops to fail and pests can impact crop growth by feeding on plant roots when humidity increases. 

The climate assessment also said increased humidity and precipitation contribute to soil erosion potential and reduces planting workdays because of waterlogged soil.

Climate change created unpredictability in rainfall, impacts crops


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Grace Smith | July 18, 2022

State Climatologist Justin Glisan said storms in Iowa are hitting smaller areas with more intensity and an increase in rainfall with unpredictable patterns. Iowa’s humidity levels have 13 percent more atmospheric moisture than 35 years ago, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. As the climate warms, water vapor in the air will continue to increase, which creates an imbalance in soil moisture for crops.

Although there has been an increase in water vapor with the presence of climate change, July has been extremely dry, and trends show April and October as wetter months this year. This trend and the below-average rainfall during dry months create lessened crop production, which Iowa saw in May when spring planting conditions were not optimal. 

This year, unlike some past dry years, topsoil and subsoil are labeled “adequate” in moisture, to help crops continue to grow during dry months like July.

With the condition of the soil and projected trends, Glisan said the 2060s and 2070s are when precipitation severity catches up to climbing temperatures. So, innovations in agriculture technology and increased rainfall are aiding crops and increasing yields.

Increased rainfall aids Iowa crops


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Grace Smith | July 14, 2022

Although this summer has been notably dry and hot, a derecho on July 5 and rainfall for the rest of that week resulted in improvement in the condition of some Iowa corn and soybean crops. The percentage of the corn crop rated good and excellent increased as of July 10 jumped to 81 percent from 77 percent the week before. Soybean crops increased by two percent, improving from 79 percent from 77 percent. 

Justin Glisan, a state climatologist, said the statewide weekly average precipitation was 1.01 inches above normal during the week of July 4, sitting at 2.12 inches.  

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Monday that 72 percent of topsoil was rated adequate and three percent sat rated very short. Subsoil moisture condition was rated 66 percent adequate and 22 percent short. 

Although some of Iowa’s crops are in better condition than before the rain, Ohio farmers are still concerned about the impact of the dry period on crops. As of July 10, soil in Ohio sits at 73 percent adequate and just 7 percent of soil contains surplus moisture. 

If droughts continue, crop size and quality can decrease, crop prices can increase, and crop cleaning practices may lessen with a lack of water.

Extreme heat, flooding affects agriculture significantly


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Grace Smith | June 23, 2022

Agriculture, which is one of the most important aspects of Iowa and surrounding economies, is experiencing many challenges because of climate change and extreme temperatures including a negative impact on livestock and crops, as well as a decrease in revenue

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources said that climate extremes have a large negative impact on yield and livestock productivity in Iowa. In addition, the 2019 Iowa Climate Statement said confined livestock stuck in severe heat conditions are at a greater risk of death. Not only does this present itself as a problem in Iowa, but also in Kansas. On June 15, the heat killed over 2,000 cattle in Kansas, a portion of the Great Plains, which remains in a drought because of extremely high temperatures. Parts of Kansas hit up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit last week, which assisted in the deaths of the cattle. 

The heat is not the only thing affecting agricultural practices in Iowa. Flooding has caused issues including a loss in revenue for farmers. An IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering study from the University of Iowa, which was published April 26, 2022, found that in a 2-year return period, or a span of time when an occurrence is likely to surface, cropland has a 50 percent chance of flooding in a given year. The study also said that annually, Iowa loses $230 million in seed crops because of farming in areas that are likely to flood. 

Members of the industry have adapted in many ways. Seed providers have altered hybrid corn and made it more tolerable to drought and heat. In addition, farmers have reacted to an increase in precipitation by utilizing quicker planters that can move across a field faster. But, without technological changes to combat climate change in the Midwest, productivity could decrease significantly.

Corn Planting is Ahead of Schedule After Early Delays


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Josie Taylor | June 8, 2022

Corn farmers have gone from at least two weeks behind schedule to three days ahead, according to a new U.S. Department of Agriculture report on Monday. After early delays, there has been a successful rush to plant. 

That report estimated that 98% of Iowa’s corn crop and 94% of soybeans have been planted, which compared to the five-year average is three days ahead for corn and six days ahead for soybeans.

A rush in planting means farmers’ concerns have expanded. They’re determining when to apply their first herbicides, checking for pests and contending with varying weather conditions since the timeline is different from past years. 

As of Thursday, nearly three-quarters of the state was sufficiently wet to avoid designations of abnormally dry or drought. About 9% of the state was in moderate or severe drought, focused near Sioux City.

In a weekly report about farmers’ progress, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig noted severe storms damaged young crops last week.

Longer-term climate predictions say it will get drier this summer, and it’s likely for drought conditions to develop across much of Iowa, with the exception of far eastern parts of the state, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

New study finds U.S. Corn Belt unsuitable for growing corn by 2100


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Grace Smith | May 31, 2022

Environmental Research Letters published an Emory University study on May 16 that said the United States Corn Belt, states in the Midwest that mainly cultivate corn and soybean crops, will be unfitted to grow corn by 2100 because of climate change if current agricultural technology and practices continue to be utilized and relied on. 

To determine this outcome, Emily Burchfield, author of the study and assistant professor of Environmental Sciences at Emory, conducted a study with corn, wheat, soy, hay, and alfalfa. Burchfield formed and analyzed many series of models in different conditions to project the growth of crops. Burchfield used one model to test changes in planting with low, moderate, and high emission situations and found that corn, wheat, soy, and alfalfa will not be able to cultivate in the upper Midwest by 2100. 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, corn makes up 92 million acres of land as of 2019, but, with climate change, there may be a shift in corn cultivation from the Midwest to the Eastern region. In a finding published by the Agricultural Water Management in March 2022, researchers said that on a ten-year average, rain fed crops are likely to decrease up to 40 bushels per acre, and irrigated yields may decline by 19 bushels per acre. Burchfield said that utilizing technology alone to grow crops and pushing away from laws of physics to understand natural processes will result in an “ecological collapse.” Burchfield also emphasized the importance of shifting away from relying on primary commodity crops like corn and soy.

New Ethanol Law Passed in Iowa on Tuesday


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Josie Taylor | May 19, 2022

A new state law in Iowa would require most fuel stations to sell a gasoline blend with 15% ethanol. This will rapidly expand the fuel’s availability, but the law’s long-term effects might be more potent, according to the executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association. 

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed House File 2128, which will boost the use of corn-based ethanol to fuel the state’s vehicles, into law on Tuesday. Her action capped a protracted and hard-fought legislative initiative that began last year.

The new law is also expected to boost the sales of diesel blends that contain 20% biodiesel, which is often made with soybean oil.

Monte Shaw, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association’s executive director, predicts that E15 will be available at 1,000 more stations by 2026, when the ethanol requirement goes into effect. That would more than quadruple the current total, according to state data.

First, the law also requires new fuel station infrastructure — the tanks, fuel lines and pumps — to be compatible with higher blends of ethanol, which can degrade certain plastics and rubbers. That will help facilitate future increases in blend requirements, perhaps with gasoline blends of 30% or 40% ethanol, Shaw said.There are current federal rules that prohibit the summer sales of certain E15 blends because federal regulators have considered them more likely to evaporate in warmer temperatures and pollute the air. The Biden administration lifted that restriction for this summer to help reduce fuel prices.

Iowa farmers plant half season’s corn in a week


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 18, 2022

After several delays during the typical planting season, Iowa farmers planted 43 percent of their corn crop last week.

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported the corn planting is still nine days behind, but it is quickly catching up to where it has been in previous years. Statewide, Iowa Capital Dispatch reported the planting percentage jumped from 14 to 57 in a matter of days. The large strides are because of an improvement in the weather. Warmer temperatures have heated the soil to where it usually is during Iowa summers, allowing for more viable seeds to be planted. Corn plants need soil to be 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mike Naig, Iowa’s secretary of agriculture, said in a press release that the progress farmers are making is significant. It is expected that the nearly 13 million acres of corn crop usually planted in Iowa will be in the ground by Friday, May 20.

“As we look ahead, weather outlooks show promise in keeping planters rolling and farmers busy in the fields,” he said.

Soybean planting was also up over the course of the week, jumping from 7 percent to nearly 33. The crop still remains roughly a week behind the five-year average in the state.