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A grasshopper sits on a drought-damaged ear of corn near Council Bluffs, Iowa, Wednesday. Only in the 1930s and the 1950s has a drought covered more of the U.S., according to the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.

Eighty-nine days after the last significant rain on Clinton County’s drought and heat-stressed crops, there was thunder, lightning, wind, hail and rain over various parts of the county on Saturday.

In Clinton, Jim Blaess, official weather observer with the National Weather Service, recorded 1.28 inches of rain. In addition to that total, Blaess recorded an additional 0.02 Wednesday.

In the northeast corner of the county, cattle farmer Andrew Naeve told the Herald, “We received anywhere from 1.5 inches all the way up to 3 inches, depending upon which farm you were at. This should do amazing things for the soybean crop,” he said.

In the western part of the county, according to Farm Bureau President Joe Dierckx, “We received 1 inch in DeWitt to 3 inches north of Calamus. There was hail damage and high winds between DeWitt and Charlotte. The rain should be beneficial to the soybeans and pastures and will stabilize the corn somewhat. The field along Highway 30, west of Low Moor, has been severely damaged by the heat and dry conditions. From there to Grand Mound seems to be the worst hit in the county by the dry hot weather. The Blanchard Dairy, south of Charlotte, is looking for whole corn fields to chop for silage.”

But there’s more to that than just pulling into a corn field with a chopper. Scientists at the Iowa State University Extension are cautioning farmers about the possibility of nitrates and even aflatoxin in the stressed corn.

Clinton County’s field agronomist Virgil Schmitt put it this way, “Corn that is stunted and has no ears from drought is the most likely to have high nitrates. The greatest risk is when the corn is green chopped and fed directly out of the field. Leaving the lower 12 to 18 inches of the stalk in the field will reduce the problem since nitrates tend to concentrate in the lower stalk.”

Alison Robertson, of the Extension’s department of plant pathology, said, “Not surprisingly, the hot dry conditions we have been experiencing across the corn belt have many farmers and the grain industry concerned about aflatoxin, a potent mycotoxin that is produced by the fungal pathogen which causes Aspergillus ear rot. Drought and high temperatures (80 to 105 degrees) during grain fill are the most common factors associated with pre-harvest aflatoxin production.”

Mahdi Al-Kaisi, with Iowa State University Extension’s department of agronomy, cautions farmers to be mindful of how much corn residue they haul off of their fields.

“Researchers have documented that significant removal of residue has negative impacts on several soil quality indicators, including soil structure, soil moisture holding capacity and soil bulk density. Under rain events, surface sealing can occur and create a crust layer, resulting in soil erosion and loss of nutrients.”

Besides worrying about the possibility of nitrates and aflatoxin in the corn, farmers also need to think about fire. According to Charles Schwab, an agricultural safety specialist with the Extension service, harvest is a prime time for agricultural fires, even when the weather has not been warm and dry.

“This year,” he said, “the normal dryness will be intensified and the potential is increased for agricultural fires.”

He reminds farmers of ways they can minimize the risk of a fire:

• Clean stalks and debris from the combine often. Monitor tractors for similar buildup of dry materials that are a fuel for fires.

• Watch closely when trucks and other vehicles enter fields with dry material. The catalytic converter located on the underside of those vehicles can easily serve as an ignition source.

• Carry a fire extinguisher and know how to use it. Carry two fire extinguishers with the combine — one in the cab and one at ground level.