The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa


June 29, 2012

County placed on drought monitor

CLINTON — Area farmers may suffer grave consequences if there is no rain within the next couple weeks, according to local officials.

Eastern Iowa, including Scott, Clinton and Jackson counties, were added Thursday to the U.S. Drought monitor map. The area is now in the moderate drought stage, leaving crops teetering on the brink of a major wipe-out.

“Clinton County is in a state of transition,” Iowa Extension Argonomist Virgil Schmitt said. “At this point it could go one of two ways. If we receive a large amount of rain the crops could still do well, but if we don’t get rain in the next few weeks we could be in a whole lot of hurt.”

Related: Drought threatens U.S. food prices

The last substantial drought in the area in 2005 left Clinton, Scott and Muscatine counties with significant losses, Schmitt said. Although in 1992 farmers dealt with much dryer conditions that severly stunted yields, and the conditions improved greatly later in the summer.

“Governor Branstad even activated a drought force,” Schmitt said. “That year managed to bring in the second largest corn crop ever recorded.”

Clinton County still remains in better condition than several surrounding areas, according to Schmitt. Spotty rain throughout the county has also left different areas in various stages of drought, some better off than others.

“It’s hard to classify a whole area,” Schmitt said. “Northern Jackson County is in a lot worse condition than we are and Dubuque is even worse. The farther you go north, the worse it gets.”

Corn remains the most threatened by the drought, while each crop is affected differently. The first sign of corn suffering from drought is when the leaves start to roll up. This is a defense mechanism to retain moisture. After this occurs there is a loss of 1 percent for every 12 hours that follow. Corn crops are especially at risk within the next few weeks, according to Schmitt.

“The exception is the two weeks before and after pollenation, when corn is the most vulnerable,” Schmitt said. “The loss goes up to 3 percent during this period.”

Soybeans are not as drastically affected by the current conditions. The more tolerant crops, if kept alive through August and the conditions are good, they can do quite well, according to Schmitt. During one of the worst recorded droughts in the area in 1988, soybeans managed to survive while other crops like corn died out.

“Corn crops were so low, it wasn’t even enough to make the drive into town to sell the crops,” Clinton County Extension Council Chairman Dan Smicker said.

Hay crops also tend to survive better throughout dry conditions, but may not have as much productivity.

“Hay is deep-rooted, giving it access to deep water,” Schmitt said. “The farmers that I’ve talked to say the quality of the crops are good, but the quantity is coming up a bit short.”

Livestock may also suffer, with the lack of pastures to graze on. Unlike hay, pasture plants are not deep-rooted and are not able to take advantage of deep water.

“Farmers should watch their animals on the pastures closely to make sure the land isn’t over-grazed,” Schmitt said.

Small grains like oats and wheat also are expected to have low yields as the dryness continues. The current heat wave has only accentuated the losses, while rain is needed, a cool down would at least help slow down the drought, according to Schmitt.

If there is no significant rainfall by mid-July, farms can expect dire consequences. Any rainfall will help, but large and frequent amounts are needed to get crops back on track, Schmitt said.

“If we don’t get rain by July 14 or 15, everyone will be in a world of hurt,” Schmitt said. “We’re on the brink. We’ve been draining the moisture reserves. If we get to the bottom it will not be pretty, but if not we could still have a great crop season.”

Consumers will also be affected as the price of crops increases due to low yields. With the rising cost of crops like corn and beans, many products containing these ingredients may go up in price as well, according to Smicker.

“These crops are in so many everyday products,” Smicker said. “It is going to hit everyone’s pocket book.”

Meat prices such as beef could also increase, even at a national level, as livestock is depopulated.

“Several surrounding areas had to depopulate livestock in recent years and if we see more of that we could see a national increase and shortage on beef,” Smickers said.

The cost of processed foods containing crops like cornflakes, will not be increased as greatly as one might think, Schmitt says. But we could see a ripple affect in the economy, with farmers who have significant losses delaying purchases.

There is not much farmers can do, but simply wait out the conditions to see what the future holds.

“It’s in mother nature’s hands now,” Schmitt said. “You can pray or you can do a rain dance, but there really is not much you can do but wait to see what happens.”

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