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No relief in sight for worsening drought conditions

This graphic shows the areas of the state experiencing drought conditions.
This graphic shows the areas of the state experiencing drought conditions.

Drought conditions along the Highway 34 corridor in southern Iowa began in late May and haven’t improved yet.

According to State Climatologist Harry Hillaker, the area hit hardest so far is Osceola and to the east to Fairfield. But, dry conditions have spread west with time, now putting Creston and northeast Adams County in drought areas as well.

Hillaker reported that Creston has received just .07 inches of rain so far in August. The average total monthly rainfall for August in Creston is 4.06 inches. July measured at just .76 inches, well short of the average of 4.39 inches for the month. June also fell short of the average monthly rainfall amount, coming in at 3.50 inches compared to the average of 4.50 inches.

“You don’t have to go very far at all into Missouri where it’s not much of an issue,” Hillaker said. “If you go straight south from the Creston, Bedford and Mount Ayr area, that area (in Missouri) saw quite a bit of rain in June and July. The map of rainfall, it looks like the rain is following the state line to some degree.”

The lack of rainfall is having an adverse effect on crops in the area.

Matt Daughton of Mount Ayr said the wet spring didn’t affect his planting much, as he usually plants a little later anyway.

But, once the weather started turning dry in June, he noticed a change in his crops.

“I feel it’s put a lot of stress on them,” Daughton said. “The beans are really more noticeable with the dry weather than the corn is. I hope it didn’t stunt it. I think it just set it back. If we have a nice fall, I think it will probably catch back up, but we can’t really guarantee that, either.”

Hillaker said he believes the south central and southeast districts of Iowa are probably the two worst areas of the state right now on the USDA Agricultural Statistics Services’ weekly crop report.

“For soybeans, the rating is the worst it’s been for this time of year since 2013,” Hillaker said. “Only a few years that have been worse. 2012 was way, way worse than this year. But before that, you have to go back to 2001, which is just a slightly worse rating than now and 1993, which of course was a big flood year.”

The Osceola area has been hit harder by the drought than Creston, seeing only 1.67 inches of rain in June compared to Creston’s 3.50 inches.

Jim Jamison, who farms in the Osceola area, also saw issues with his soybeans.

“We were wet early and we only planted corn about five days,” Jamison said. “We had a real short window. When the water did shut off, she shut off and we had trouble getting enough moisture to get the beans up out of the ground.”

Hillaker said the rainfall totals for June and July combined have been the lowest total combination for those two months since 1911.

“That doesn’t mean things are the worst they’ve ever been since then,” Hillaker said. “One difference this year versus 1911, 1911 happened to be a very hot summer. At the time, it was the hottest summer known in Iowa. This year, there’s only been one day of 100 or worse, which is bad enough. Small consolation, I guess, for those who are experiencing it.”

According to Hillaker, the mild weather in the area currently will likely continue for at least a couple more weeks, meaning there won’t be any more 100-degree days and possibly no 90-degree days for a couple of weeks.

That will help improve the crop conditions and draw out the crop development slower, which would allow a later rain to help the crops.

“One problem with hot summers is the crop matures very rapidly,” he said. “The rain may come at what is usually a decent time, but the crop is too far along to take advantage of it. The cooler weather will buy a little more time. The bad thing is, ... there is maybe not much change in the outlook for rainfall. Every once in a while you’ll get a surprise and get a decent rain, but it’s very localized.”

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