DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A growing season that began
unusually wet and cold in the Midwest is finishing hot and dry, renewing
worries of drought and its impact on crops.
Temperatures soared to records in recent days in parts of the region,
reaching nearly 100 degrees in some areas. The heat wave struck many farm
states — from the Dakotas to Wisconsin, down through Missouri — that have
seen too little rain this growing season.
"It's about the worst case scenario we could have with these high
temperatures and the lack of water with soil moisture declining," said
Roger Elmore, an agronomy professor at Iowa State University.
A wet, cool spring delayed planting and slowed crop growth — but it also
replenished soil moisture in many crop producing states, causing some of
last year's widespread drought to retreat. The rain stopped in July in
many of those states, however, and as the soil dried out, the heat set in
and stressed corn and soybean crops.
The southeast Iowa city of Burlington, which is surrounded by corn fields,
had its wettest spring on record at 19.23 inches of precipitation, nearly
8 inches above normal. Yet it's now on track to have its driest summer on
record, with only 3.86 inches so far, 8.41 inches below normal.
Corn and soybeans have developed enough that weather conditions are not
likely to reduce the number of kernels on the corn cob or the seeds in
soybean pods. But those kernels and seeds could develop smaller and weigh
less, which could reduce the harvest this fall, Elmore said.
Unless it's a drastic reduction, it's unlikely to affect consumer prices
at the grocery store. A shortage of corn and soybeans from a bad year
would likely have a more immediate impact on meat prices because it costs
more for livestock farmers to feed their herds.
The dry conditions aren't confined to Middle America: for the first time
since early April, more than half of the country is now in some stage of
drought, according to the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor report released
Thursday. That includes much of the West, where the hot, dry weather has
Drought conditions surged in the past week in corn-producing states, up to
45 percent of the region from 25 percent the week before, said Brad Rippey,
a meteorologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Soybeans in
drought also increased sharply in the last week to 38 percent from 16
percent, he said.
In northwest Kansas, farmer Brian Baalman watched the temperature reach 94
degrees on his truck thermometer Wednesday. He farms about 30 miles west
of Colby, where corn plants are turning white and ears are drooping as the
heat kills the corn that's not irrigated.
"We are basically back to where we (were) in the moisture situation before
the rain came, you know," he said. "Go west of me and it is a lot
different, drier yet, and folks are worse off than we are," he said.
Lack of rain has caused drought conditions to expand in most of Wisconsin
and Minnesota, along with eastern Illinois, western Indiana and northern
Michigan, and parts of Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana, according to the
Rain eased drought in portions of northern Nebraska, though much of the
western half of the state remains in extreme drought. The report also
shows that abnormally dry conditions, one stage below drought, expanded in
eastern Iowa and South Dakota.
All of those states grow either corn or soybeans, or both.
In western Wisconsin, where farmers have been waiting weeks for rain,
grazing usually provides about half of the food that the 550 dairy cows
consume in the summer at Saxon Homestead Farm. But this year, the pastures
are providing only about a third of what's needed, and farmer Karl Klessig
and his family have already dipped into their winter food supply.
"We never touch those stacks until October or November," Klessig said
Wednesday. "This year, we started feeding two of those stacks in August."
But the drought monitor showed improvement in western and central Kansas,
western and central Oklahoma, the Panhandle of Texas, south-central
Arkansas, and eastern Louisiana. Improvement from rain also was noted in
western and southern South Dakota.
In western Kansas, farmer Dean Stoskopf said temperatures hovering in the
upper 90s have helped crops mature at his family farm near Hoisington.
"The crops are holding up good," he said, but acknowledged: "In another
week or so, they are going to need a drink."