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Mother Nature deals a bad hand to parts of the Midwest

Agriculture.com Staff 08/22/2007 @ 11:44am

As the summer winds down, Corn Belt farmers may be making preparations for corn harvest...that is, if their crops aren't standing in water or worse, not standing at all.

High winds have left some corn fields looking steamrolled, while torrential rains have left other fields looking more like rice paddies in the last week. In Fort Dodge, Iowa, for example, data from the Iowa State University (ISU) Department of Agronomy show around 15 inches of rain has fallen there for the month of August, with all but four of those inches coming in the last five days.

In southern Minnesota, where drought was the corn crop's worst enemy earlier in the summer, record rainfall amounts not only have soil moisture levels recharged, but also have tile lines "flowing vigorously," according to University of Minnesota (U of M) soil scientists Gyles Randall and Thomas Hoverstad.

"Rainfall so far in August totals 10.07 inches -- which is the third highest in our 93-year record -- and we still have nine days remaining," the U of M scientists wrote Wednesday about conditions at the Southern Research and Outreach Center in Waseca, Minnesota. "After only 9.68 inches of rain in three months (May through July), which resulted in only 5.2 inches of available soil water on August 1, the soil profile has been completely recharged to more than 11 inches in one week. Precipitation since January 1 now totals 29 inches or five inches above normal."

Reports of up to three feet of standing water in some corn fields and corn plants blown flat by triple-digit wind speeds now have growers wondering whether or not the crop will be able to bounce back.

"After being very dry since mid-May, we got five inches of rain Sunday and Monday here in northeast Indiana," writes Agriculture Online Crop Talk member cz4586. "Have some corn standing in a foot or more of water that won't recede for several days. The corn's at about R5 growth stage."

If slow in receding, fellow Crop Talk member jrj says rot and a necessarily early harvest will be the greatest concerns. "I have had corn under two to three feet of water. The water was several days going down," jrj writes. "Root rot and stalk rot was the problem with mine. Keep a close eye on it, as you may have to harvest it early."

In the western Corn Belt, waterlogged conditions -- some of which were accompanied by severe winds -- have some farmers staring down the barrel of a difficult corn harvest, if they have one at all.

"We are getting pounded with rain. We have some flat corn from 129 mph winds in the Ottosen/Bode (Iowa) area," Chris Weydert says of the fields in the Bode, Iowa, area just south of Algona in northern Iowa. Conditions are similarly tough in west-central Iowa, according to crop consultant Leigh Downing, with Downing Seed and Consulting in Bayard.

"The corn south of Audubon doesn't look good at all. They had over 70 mph winds, so there are a lot of fields lying flat," Downing says. "We definitely were able to identify the hybrids with the best root structure."

In northwest Missouri, straight-line winds have laid over corn to the point it won't stand back up. Fields throughout parts of Atchison, Nodaway and Holt counties have cornstalks that succumbed to high winds. University of Missouri Extension agronomist in Holt County Wayne Flanary says the damage is the worst he's seen.

"I've seen green-snap, but these damaged fields will be very tough to harvest," Flanary says. "The stalks will not stand upright. The crop has a ways go, so we hope the stalks are still attached to the soil."

Producers facing harvesting this horizontal crop are already preparing, Flanary says. "It will be a slow, tedious process. The producers are already attaching reels onto the front of their combine's corn headers."

Meanwhile, similar crop damage occurred in central Missouri near Carrollton. The high winds whipped through parts of Missouri and southern Iowa last Thursday.

Even with the damaging conditions of the last few days, the crops in some areas should bounce back, at least from the heavier rainfall totals, says ISU Extension agronomist in Spencer, Iowa, Paul Kassel. His area of northern Iowa has seen more than a foot of rain since last weekend, with damage stemming from the excess water in Cherokee, Buena Vista and Pocahontas counties and a tornado near Plover, Iowa.

"The good news is that the later-planted and later-maturing corn and soybeans will benefit from the rain, yield-wise. The other good thing is this is happening now and not in September or October," Kassel says. "I'm not sure how the standing water will impact the crops. The good thing is that warm, dry weather is predicted and the crop is still using moisture."

As the summer winds down, Corn Belt farmers may be making preparations for corn harvest...that is, if their crops aren't standing in water or worse, not standing at all.

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