Dry fields: poor yields

Angie Holland/The HeraldRon Arkema of Five-Point Heritage Farm showed the dryness of the dirt in one of his fields.

OSKALOOSA — The lack of rain in Southeast Iowa has caused a lot of heartache for area farmers, who are facing tough situations with crops as needed precipitation is absent.

Iowa State University Farm Management Specialist Charles Brown said fields are dry and in need of a good rain; and he added the area farmers are past the point of gaining back what they’ve lost — they’re just hoping to stop any future loss now.

Some area farmers haven’t had a good rain since May, Brown said.

“It’s got their attitudes awfully dry also,”Brown said. “I tell you, it’s not a good situation here in Mahaska, Wapello County, parts of Monroe and Marion, Wayne County and Davis County, parts of Jefferson County. Oskaloosa is kind of right in the center of it, and we just can’t seem to buy rain right now.”

Brown said Iowa saw a bumper crop in 2016 with record yields.

“So if you’re going to compare the two [years], they’re night and day. We had a 206 bushel average in Iowa last year, which is an all-time high. Mahaska was right around 200 bushels with the county average yield,” Brown said. “I think this year, you could probably knock probably at least right now, you can probably knock 30-40 bushel off that average yield for the county and if it doesn’t rain, it could be more.”

Brown said corn yields have already taken a hit, it’s just a question of how much of a hit.

“I’ve talked to some farmers that think maybe they’ve lost 50 percent of their crop yield on corn,” he said. “I think most people have probably lost 20 percent. If it would rain today, which they’re saying it’s supposed to, that’s not going to gain all that back but at least we won’t lose any more yield.”

Ron Arkema of 5-Five-Points Heritage Farm said he and his wife, Vickie Arkema, grow farmers market produce in addition to running a traditional farm.

“Our traditional things, like our corn, our field corn is doing pretty well,” Ron said. “But I think that’s because of the nature of the quality of the corn that’s available today. So even though it’s very dry, I think the corn is doing ok.”

Ron said he is used to having to use a lot of irrigation for his farmers market crops, such as tomatoes, potatoes and green beans.

“We’re watering a lot. I haven’t seen the bill yet for July, but June, we used about 45,000 gallons of water in order to irrigate our vegetable garden for crops that we’re taking to the farmer’s market,” he said. “When you’re watering, irrigation, it’s still not the same as a nice, healthy rainfall. Because the rain helps the plants use the nutrients that’s in the ground. But when we’re irrigating, we have to put those nutrients into the water and that’s nice additional nutrients, but it’s not the same as also having it come from the soil.”

Ron Arkema said he’s noticed the effects of the drought, particularly in the tomato crops he and his wife farm.

“We have over 300 tomato plants. So we’re generating a lot of tomatoes. We’re at our peak. The tomatoes are very subject to availability of moisture. And we can’t water them constantly like you would if you had a nice rain and the ground was moist,” he said. “So the tomatoes one day are getting a lot of moisture, and then they’re not; then they’re getting moisture then they’re not. They tend to crack and break that way. It’s not good for the fruit. The extreme dryness, even though we’re irrigating them, it’s not the same as having a nice gentle rain.”

Brown said the whole Southeast Iowa area is abnormally dry.

“We’ve really had less rain in total, less than 2012, which was a really dry year,” Brown said. “But we had quite a bit of rain there in April and May and built up the subsoil moisture and we’ve been living off that subsoil moisture. But that well’s about dry, if it’s not dry.”

Brown said things were looking fairly good until last week, with temperatures around 100 degrees Fahrenheit bombarding the area.

“That really sapped the moisture out of the ground,” he said. “We need a couple inches of moisture. I think we could take two to three inches and you’d probably never know it even rained, probably in a few hours it’ll all just soak right in.”

— Herald staff writer Angie Holland can be reached at aholland@oskyherald.com and followed on Twitter @OskyAngie.

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