Crops Affected by Drought in Half of Iowa


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Josie Taylor | August 3, 2022

Drought conditions are likely to develop over the southern half of the state in August as the month starts with abnormally hot days with little chance for rain, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

What started as a portion of the state being abnormally dry or in varying degrees of drought has expanded to more than half of the state. It’s the first time the dry area has been that large since April. The latest Drought Monitor report on Thursday showed an expansion of severe and extreme drought in northwest Iowa and the extension of abnormally dry conditions across much of southern Iowa.

Southwest Iowa previously led the state in available soil moisture, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In early June, about 96% of its topsoil and subsoil had adequate or surplus moisture. As of Sunday, about 27% of topsoil and 36% of subsoil had adequate water for crops to grow.

The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for Tuesday afternoon for the western half of the state. 

Last week, the state averaged temperatures of about 3 degrees cooler than normal with abysmal rainfall. Much of the south had no rain, and the highest reported rainfall accumulation was .89 inch near Churdan.

The state’s corn was rated 76% good or excellent, down from 80% the previous week. Soybeans were rated 73% good or excellent, down from 75%.

Idaho Researchers Found Correlation Between Pesticides and Cancer


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Josie Taylor | July 12, 2022

University of Idaho and Northern Arizona University researchers found a correlation between agricultural pesticides and cancer in western states. Two studies were conducted. One examined correlating data in 11 Western states and one took a closer look at data in Idaho specifically

The studies found a possible relationship between agricultural pesticides, particularly fumigants, and cancer incidences. For the larger study, pesticide data was pulled from the U.S. Geological Survey Pesticide National Synthesis Project database, and the cancer data was gathered from National Cancer Institute State Cancer Profiles.

Alan Kolok led both studies. He is a University of Idaho professor and director of the Idaho Water Resources Research Institute. Kolok said the correlation between the sets of data on multiple population scales gives him a reason to want to look into the matter further, however it is not enough to be definite proof.

Idaho is the only state Kolok has taken a close look at, and his colleague and co-author at Northern Arizona University, Cathy Propper, said she didn’t know if the right data was available in other states like it was in Idaho.

Kolok said the next steps they hope to take are expanding their data research to a nationwide scale and further examining whether there is a cause behind the correlation they found between pesticides and cancer. 

Crops in Northwest Iowa Suffer Due to Drought


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Josie Taylor | July 6, 2022

Corn and soybean plants are continuing to suffer in some parts of Iowa from excessive heat and drought. This has been seen especially in far northwest Iowa where drought conditions are worsening. 

Large areas of Plymouth and Woodbury counties are in extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. It’s the first time in nearly a year that any part of the state was that dry. 

Much of the state’s corn crop is at its peak demand for water, and the soybean crop is approaching its peak. A small percentage of corn had begun to show silk for pollination as of Sunday, and about 13% of soybeans were blooming, the USDA report said.

In the past three weeks, the percentage of the state’s corn that is rated good or excellent has dropped from 86 to 77. 

Although there is drought in part of the state, soil moisture is still improved from a year ago. About two-thirds of the state’s topsoil and subsoil has adequate or surplus moisture, whereas last year more than half of the soil was short, according to the USDA report.

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.

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.

India is experiencing a heatwave that is impacting the wheat harvest


Wheat field
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Elyse Gabor | May 3, 2022

India is experiencing a record-breaking heatwave. Dangerous temperatures have affected millions of people. Some regions are predicted to reach 120 Fahrenheit, which will have detrimental effects on the country’s wheat harvest.

India and the United States nearly make up a third of wheat exports. India was expected to produce around 122 million tons, a record amount. However, the country has just experienced its hottest March to date. The heatwave hit the central wheat-growing regions and is expected to last long into harvest season. 

The hot spell has affected India’s farmers, with many of them experiencing a depletion in their wheat crop. A farmer from the Uttar Pradesh’s Etawah district, Devendra Singh Chauhan, said in a text message to NBC News, “If such unreasonable weather patterns continue year after year, farmers will suffer badly.”

Harjeet Singh, senior adviser to Climate Action Network, said, “[Wheat] prices will be driven up, and if you look at what is happening in Ukraine, with many countries relying on wheat from India to compensate, the impact will be felt well beyond India.” 

The USDA Plans to Send $1.4 Billion Into Rural Communities


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Josie Taylor | February 3, 2022

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa Governor, Tom Vilsack, announced Wednesday that the USDA is investing $1.4 billion into rural economies. They are doing this through job training, business loans and the expansion of technical assistance.

Eight programs will give out 751 awards across 49 states. Vilsack believes these programs will help create wealth in rural communities.

“The rural economy, which plays an important role in our national economy, has historically lagged behind the urban and suburban counterparts,” he said, “That’s why it’s important for us to focus on building back that rural economy better.”

The grants and loans will assist with many needs such as housing, the expansion of small businesses and family farms, and providing capital for new small businesses owners. 

One of the programs, the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Program, allocated $8.4 million in grant awards and $1.7 million in loans.  In Iowa, the Pella Cooperative Electric Association received a $300,000 grant from that program to replenish the association’s revolving loan fund. That money will help fund the construction of a women’s housing and health care facility. 

Several universities also received those grants, such as The Ohio State University, which received nearly $200,000, and the governing body at the University of Nebraska, which was awarded $200,000. 

Residents of Palo are Concerned about Possible Solar Project


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Josie Taylor | May 31, 2021

On Tuesday night in Palo, IA, over 100 residents attended a meeting with Linn County officials to ask questions and voice concerns about a possible new solar project. 

NextEra Energy has the goal of transforming the Duane Arnold Energy Center into a solar farm. 

The Palo Community Center was filled with both residents of Palo and nearby areas as Linn County officials presented the solar farm permitting process to the community. The meeting’s purpose was to explain the process because the county has not received any project applications. The solar project would be across 3,500 acres at and near the decommissioned nuclear plant in Palo, according to project manager Kimberly Dickey.

Charlie Nichols told The Gazette that once an application from a developer is received, a review committee would be held the first Thursday of the month following the application. After that, it goes through planning and zoning and then to the Board of Supervisors. A large-scale utility like this also would need to be approved by the Iowa Utilities Board.

Nearly all residents at the meeting opposed the project. They also had questions and concerns about things like the environment, agriculture, and more. 

Among the people who were open about concerns to the county officials was Palo Mayor Eric Van Kerckhove. “My concern is the future of growth,” he said. “I feel this could limit our ability to grow, which grows our tax base.”

The Majority of Iowa is Experiencing Abnormal Dryness


Josie Taylor | May 3, 2021

According to the Iowa drought monitor, 74.5 percent of Iowa is abnormally dry, with extreme drought conditions in northwest Iowa. Last week only 40.8 percent was in drought. Iowa is expected to be in a drought until the early part of crop season, but possibly longer. 

State climatologist Justin Glisan clarified in an interview that the majority of Iowa is not in what is classified as a drought, but it is something to keep an eye out for this summer. 

This drought is vastly different than last year, which had flooding and storms. Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said that he has visited farms that are still recovering from heavy flooding from two years ago, and are now being affected by dryness. Much of Iowa is still recovering from last summer’s derecho as well. 

Glisan also warned that if moisture levels don’t improve, “we could see some physiological issues with corn and soybeans”. Iowa farmers continue to suffer during the crop season, and current predictions show northwest Iowa may not get the rain they need soon. 

Incentives Alone are Not Enough to Solve Iowa’s Dirty Water Problem


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Nicole Welle | October 29, 2020

Governor Kim Reynolds plans to revive her stalled Invest in Iowa plan during the legislative session next year, but experts warn that tax money going towards voluntary farm-based projects to improve Iowa’s water quality is not enough to make a difference.

Gov. Reynolds introduced the Invest in Iowa plan as a way to improve Iowa’s business climate and boost the state’s image. The plan would raise Iowa’s sales tax to fill the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, lower income taxes, provide mental health funding and improve water quality, according to an article in The Gazette.

The funds for improving water quality would go towards incentive-based farm projects aimed at reducing fertilizer runoff into Iowa’s waterways. However, the plan does not include any accountability measures to ensure that funded projects are actually successful. University of Iowa professor Larry Weber, a co-founder of the Iowa Flood Center and former director of the IIHR Hydroscience and Engineering Institute, said in a panel that adding restrictions is crucial to the plan’s success. He also noted that Iowa’s nitrate load has doubled over the last 20 years even though the state has payed farmers $600 million over that time period for conservation projects.

On top of adding restrictions, many environmental experts also believe the state needs to reduce the rate of agricultural intensification, ensure farmers volunteering for these programs are educated and understand the problem, discourage the overuse of manure and commercial fertilizers and rethink the state’s system for siting livestock confinement operations. Livestock confinements are a big contributor to water pollution, but they are quickly increasing in number in Iowa’s watersheds.

Iowa’s water quality problem is a complex issue that requires multiple solutions. However, these additional solutions would require changes in law that would get a lot of pushback from powerful ag interests that sell seed, feed and fertilizer, so experts like Larry Weber fear that Iowa’s water quality will continue to decline under Gov. Reynolds’ plan.