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Corn Belt rains fueling soil erosion

Jeff Caldwell 05/02/2012 @ 9:43am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

Another storm system that brought spotty heavy rainfall and severe wind will again push back planting progress in central and western parts of the Corn Belt. But, it could be doing more than that.

According to the Iowa Environmental Mesonet, overnight storms dropped rainfall amounts up to 2 inches in parts of Nebraska and Iowa, with the system rapidly moving east Wednesday morning. Parts of Indiana and Ohio also saw rainfall amounts in excess of 1 1/2 inches Tuesday night.

"There were numerous reports of .50" to .75" rains in southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa. A fast-moving squall line brought brief heavy rains to portions of central Iowa early this morning," said Craig Solberg, meteorologist with Freese-Notis Weather, Inc., in Des Moines, Iowa, Wednesday morning. "This weakening squall line is pushing heavy rains over south-central and eastern parts of Iowa this morning and is also covering parts of western Illinois. During the past 24 hours, many stations in central Illinois reported .25" to .75" rainfall amounts with some locally heavier rains. There were severe storms reported around Monticello, Illinois, moving into west-central Indiana yesterday afternoon and evening."

And, more is expected. In fact, Solberg says the wet trend looks to continue through the weekend, likely stalling most or all fieldwork, much to many farmers' chagrin.

"Three and a half inches in an 18-hour period has put water over the roads, big ponds in all fields and tiles now running full," says Agriculture.com Marketing Talk contributor bullrider685114, who farms in west-central Indiana. "So much for the early start. Replanting is now a real possibility."

And, the rain isn't just keeping the planters stalled. It could be creating more trouble in the form of erosion in fields without much of last year's crop residue left on or near the surface. That danger's been higher than normal this spring because of the combination of early fieldwork progress and spotty heavy rains, according to Iowa State University agronomist and Iowa Water Center director Rick Cruse.

"I think early spring in itself has not caused more erosion," he says. "The opportunity for farmers to till sooner (apply anhydrous, for example in January or February) existed and that activity if coupled with heavy rains (and we have again had some) does open the door for accelerated soil erosion rates."

And, it's not just rainfall. "The other question to address is the increased risk that one encounters with the early warming period," Cruse adds.

Unprotected land -- like those acres prepared to plant or that have already been planted -- can be changed dramatically by rainfall, according to Iowa State University Extension field agronomist Mahdi Al-Kaisi.

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