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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Drought-busting prayers paying off

Thursday, July 25, 2002

A few timely rains keeps local farm hopes alive

Alta farmer Dave Friedrich's prayer for rain while in church last Sunday apparently didn't fall upon deaf ears.

"We were very fortunate for the storm last Sunday night and early Monday morning," said Friedrich, who farms 900 acres in Buena Vista County. "It was only 8/10 inch, but it was enough to keep us in business. I stepped into the corn yesterday, and it's dampish, while the ears are setting relatively good. Of course, a couple inches of rain would be nice."

Friedrich's desire for more moisture reflects the wishes of many farmers throughout Buena Vista County as summer's crippling heat and lack of rainfall continues to take its toll on crops throughout the region. While Friedrich may be among the fortunate few in Northwest Iowa who continue to see a somewhat successful crop despite the drought, others throughout the state - and nation - aren't so lucky.

Iowa remains among one third of the contiguous United States currently in drought including most western states, east coast states stretching from Florida to Maine, and much of the Midwest, where U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman has declared 32 Nebraska counties agricultural disaster areas. Minimal rains have forced many farmers only to wait and worry about the fate of their endangered yields. With the area's few rains coming in the form of meager showers or damaging thunderstorms that have caused more harm to crops than help, farmers are hoping for at least an average yield. Despite the apparent lack of promise for producers, Storm Lake farmer Bill Keller's hope for a successful season has yet to dry up completely.

"We really can't tell for sure at this point how it's going to affect us," Keller said. "Beans are growing slower than what they should be, and we're guessing about a 10 to 15 percent reduction in corn yield, but it's just a guess. We really won't know for another month or so."

While Keller, who farms 560 acres of corn and soybeans throughout Buena Vista and Sac counties, has seen his share of smaller yields due to dry summers in his 30 years of farming, he has yet to lose an entire crop to extreme conditions.

"We've seen plenty of short crops," Keller said. "1988 was a very bad drought year, but we still turned out a pretty decent yield considering the circumstances. I'm hoping the market covers this year's shortfall in the crop. In drought years it usually happens, but not necessarily all the time."

Iowa State University Extension Crops Field Specialist Paul Kassel said that, while crops in northwest Iowa are already far from their best form, a lack of rain within the next month could put farmers' yields in dire straits.

"We won't be able to tell how bad damages may be for another four weeks, but when you walk into any field and the corn is only chest high, you know you have yield damage," Kassel said. "Plus every day you get wilting of the plants due to the heat. With crops already struggling without rain, and now higher temperatures, it's like running against the wind."

According to Kassel, it typically takes 22 inches of moisture to grow a crop. Due to considerably higher temperatures, an estimated 24 inches will be required. With a fairly dry spring, plus a mere five to six inches of rain since April, crop moisture currently rests at about half of what is needed.

"We usually depend on June rains, and we hardly received any," Kassel said. "We have our modern day corn hybrids that can take a lot of stress, but they still need a lot of moisture."

Kassel said that, unfortunately, no current solution exists for farmers who can only helplessly watch their crops suffer until next rainfall. Despite the inevitable loss ensued by mother nature's wrath, there still may be hope for area farmers.

"We've definitely lost our potential yield, but we could still have a pretty decent crop with moderate temperatures and decent rainfall from here on out," Kassel said. "Some good soils will come through, and some are still shot. There's nothing we can do but wait, watch and hope for the best."

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