By Katie Dahlstrom
Herald Staff Writer
Clinton County farmers are eagerly waiting to get their field work started for this season, but frozen ground has prevented much of the recent precipitation from saturating the soils to the desired levels and could add a slight delay to their schedules.
The average mean temperature this March has been 9.5 degrees below the normal 38.6 degrees, according to Jim Blaess, official weather observer with the National Weather Service. While the below normal temperatures have caused some of the 5.75 inches of precipitation the area has received this year to run off, some has soaked into the ground.
Agronomist Virgil Schmitt with the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach office in Muscatine, said Clinton County is still considered in a modern drought, better than some western parts of the state, which are in an exceptional drought.
“We still need those rains through the spring and the summer,” Schmitt said. “But we’ve got enough moisture so we can get the crops off to a really good start.”
Farmers know their fields are saturated when water starts to flow out of tile lines in their fields. Dustin Johnson, who farms corn, soybeans and alfalfa hay on 700 acres in rural Clinton, said he has yet to see any water from his tile lines. Because of the colder temperatures, the ground hadn’t thawed to let much of the rain soak into the soil.
“We’re sitting a little better than we were last summer,” Johnson said. “There’s still time for that to make up in spring rain.”
The frozen ground also will prevent Johnson from doing early field work he has been able to do in mid to late March in previous years. The waiting is all a part of the job, he said.
“As farmers we just kind of watch what’s going on and make preparations,” Johnson said.
West of Clinton, along U.S. 30, Curtis Allen has started to see some of the tile lines on his 1,000-acre farm flow. He predicts the late frost might keep him from performing some of the work he would like to do, but suspects that previous years have allowed him and fellow farmers to get started earlier than normal.
“We’re a little behind average, but maybe it’s been early,” Allen said.
According Blaess, Allen’s suspicions are correct. The average mean temperature for last March was 54.3 degrees, 15.7 degrees above normal. The week of March 14 through 20 of last year set records with 80 degree temperatures six days in a row.
Early or not, Allen still yearns to prepare his equipment for the fields. Eager as he may be, he knows the final say on when the fields are ready is not up to him.
“You have to be an optimist to be in agriculture,” Allen said. “You’re putting everything out there to produce crops, but mother nature has the last say.”
When area farmers look to what this season will hold, Schmitt said there are several factors that can give some insight into the future.
Farmers could look to the weather in Arkansas this month to see what conditions will be in April and early May. According to Schmitt, Arkansas has had 1 to 2 inches of rain in the last two weeks, which bodes well for Iowa.
Another predictor for Iowa is el niño and la niña on the West Coast. If the situation turns to el niño, it will tend to knock down the extreme temperatures and push things to the wet side of normal. In the last 90 days the condition was normal to average. In the last 30 days it was neutral to el niño, which also bodes well for Iowa.
Finally, if the Bermuda High pressure system, which pumps moist air up the Mississippi River to eastern Iowa, is in position east of the Bermuda Islands it is a good omen for the area.
As all of these factors play a role in what type of yields farmers will see, they also have history working in their favor. According to Schmitt, widespread drought such as the one experienced last year has not occurred two years in a row.
“From a historic perspective it’s pretty unlikely we’ll have a repeat of last year,” Schmitt said.