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Corn Belt sees a significant reduction in drought intensity

Nebraska farmer Ben Sauder says the state received its first good rain since last September this week. Sauder, who grows corn and soybeans near Imperial, says this precipitation finally provided some much-needed relief from long-lasting drought conditions. 

“Everyone has kind of been going through the motions during planting so far,” Sauder says. “Now that this rain has come, it’ll be pretty wild when things dry out. People will be ready to get out into the fields to finish planting.”

The state had about five days this week suitable for fieldwork, according to the Crop Progress Report. Despite being suitable, says Sauder, it’s just now that the fields have had enough moisture to take advantage of those days.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Nebraska farmers have planted about 28% of their corn and about 19% of their soybeans. Over the last week, the state had a significant jump in soybean planting – getting around 16% into the ground – and Sauder says the rain will only encourage more planting.

Most of Nebraska reported about 2 inches of rain. However, precipitation totals were scattered; Logan County, in the middle of the state, got about 4 inches, while parts of northern counties like Sheridan and Cherry reported much less, around 0.5 inch.

Sauder says that last week’s rain will help to finish out the winter wheat crop. In order for the corn and soybeans just going into the ground to make it to the finish line, however, the state will need a lot more precipitation. 

“There’s not the sub-soil moisture we need to sustain growing all summer long,” Sauder says. “We got this inch and a half, and it helps, but we need to continue to get rain because there’s not the sub-soil to pull from. We don’t have enough stored to make it through the year.”

According to the May 2 Crop Progress Report, Nebraska topsoil moisture levels were rated 31% very short, 32% short, 35% adequate, and 2% surplus. The subsoil levels were rated 34% very short, 44% short, 22% adequate, and 0% surplus.

Most of Nebraska’s soil holds moisture well, Sauder says, so once they get the moisture, they can keep it. Some farms in his area are built over an aquifer and have a form of natural irrigation to help maintain a little moisture. 

Map of drought conditions for Nebraska for May 3
Photo credit: U.S. Drought Monitor

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, drought conditions in eastern Nebraska are less intense this week. Just under 12% of the state reported extreme drought conditions, a 10% improvement from last week. About 49% of the state reported severe conditions, a 3% improvement from last week. Despite the recent rain, 98% of Nebraska still reported abnormally dry conditions or worse.

Here is what other states across the Corn Belt are experiencing.

IOWA

Map of drought conditions for Iowa for May 3
Photo credit: U.S. Drought Monitor

Iowa’s drought got less intense again this week. Only three counties are classified as suffering from severe drought – Woodbury, Monona, and Plymouth – accounting for just over 2.5% of the state. Abnormally dry acreage shrank from 32% to 30% of the state, primarily in western counties. Overall, 43% of Iowa reported abnormally dry conditions or worse.

Counties in the southwest corner of the state received the most moisture this week, with totals averaging 3 inches in Fremont, Page, Cass, and Audubon counties. The rest of the state saw lower totals, averaging around 1.5 inches. Marion County, in central Iowa, received the least precipitation, reporting less than 0.5 inch.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig says, though the planting has continued in spite of the conditions, more moisture may slow progress in the upcoming days.

“Despite another cold, wet week that slowed fieldwork, planting has begun in some areas of the state,” says Naig. “Looking ahead, short-term temperature outlooks suggest a shift toward much-needed warmer weather but, unfortunately, with a wetter storm track.”

USDA reported about three days suitable for fieldwork last week due to the rain and cold. Unsuitable planting conditions have kept corn planting progress lagging far behind the state’s five-year average of 42%. Iowa corn is, as of the May 2 Crop Progress Report, just 9% planted.

Iowa topsoil moisture levels were rated 3% very short, 13% short, 68% adequate, and 16% surplus, according to Monday’s Crop Progress report. Iowa subsoil moisture levels were rated 8% very short, 22% short, 63% adequate, and 7% surplus.

ILLINOIS

Map of drought conditions for Illinois for May 3
Photo credit: U.S. Drought Monitor

Illinois saw no change in drought conditions this week. Abnormally dry conditions account for over 8% of the state, spanning the top two tiers of northern counties.

The western counties reported the most precipitation. Pike, Calhoun, and Green counties reported about 3.25 inches. Counties in the eastern part of the state received significantly less precipitation. Lawrence, Wabash, and White counties reported just over 0.25 inch.

Illinois farmers were able to get into the field three days last week, double the 1.5 days they were able to the week prior. Less rain across the state meant more time for the fields to dry out and more opportunity for producers to plant. Illinois is still far behind the 43% five-year average of corn planting. USDA says Illinois corn is 7% planted thanks to the increase in workable days.

Illinois topsoil moisture levels were rated 0% very short, 2% short, 58% adequate, and 40% surplus, according to the Crop Progress Report. Illinois subsoil moisture levels were rated 0% very short, 4% short, 67% adequate, and 29% surplus.

KANSAS

Map of drought conditions for Kansas for May 3
Photo credit: U.S. Drought Monitor

Kansas’ drought intensity declined this week. The exceptional conditions in the southwestern corner of the state accounted for 16% of the state. About 28% of the state reports severe conditions, mostly concentrated in the western half of Kansas, and 74% of the state reports abnormally dry conditions or worse. 

The southwest corner of Kansas received little to no precipitation this week. On the other side of the state, the southeastern corner reported an average of 2 inches. Republic, Jewel, Washington, Phillip, and Smith counties on the Kansas-Nebraska border reported the most precipitation, with an average of 3.25 inches.

About six days were suitable for fieldwork this week, on par with the last few weeks for Kansas producers. The low rain totals meant producers could get out into the fields if their soil moisture was sufficient for planting. The consistent weather has allowed corn producers to stay almost on pace with the five-year planting average, with 35% of corn planted.

The report also indicated Kansas topsoil moisture levels were rated 36% very short, 31% short, 31% adequate, and 1% surplus. Kansas subsoil moisture levels were rated 34% very short, 34% short, 31% adequate, and 1% surplus.

MINNESOTA

Map of drought conditions for Minnesota for May 3
Photo credit: U.S. Drought Monitor

Fewer acres in Minnesota reported drought conditions this week. Cass County, which previously reported dry conditions, now reports none. Just two counties on the southern edge reported areas of moderate drought. Overall, 6% of the state reported abnormally dry conditions or worse, down from 11% last week.

The northern half of Minnesota reported the least precipitation this week, with Saint Louis, Lake, and Koochiching counties receiving about half an inch. Several other northern counties received over 2 inches. The southern edge reported the highest precipitation totals, with Freeborn and Mower counties reporting an average of 3 inches. The rest of the state reported around 1.5 inches of precipitation.

Producers in Minnesota were able to get into their fields for about a day this week, an improvement from the zero days the previous week. Nearly two weeks out of the field has prevented any significant planting progress. The USDA reported 0% of Minnesota corn planted, trailing the 28% average for this time of year.

Minnesota topsoil moisture levels were rated 1% very short, 6% short, 64% adequate, and 29% surplus, according to the May 2 Crop Progress Report. Minnesota subsoil moisture levels were rated 2% very short, 14% short, 68% adequate, and 16% surplus.

MISSOURI

Map of drought conditions for Missouri for May 3
Photo credit: U.S. Drought Monitor

Missouri saw almost no change in drought acreage or intensity this week. However, thanks to 4 inches of rain in Atchison County, the small area in the county no longer reports dry conditions. Barton, Vernon, and Jasper counties in the west remain abnormally dry, accounting for less than 1% of the state.

The northwest corner of the state reported the most precipitation this week. Most of Missouri reported an average of 2.75 inches of rain. Mississippi County in the far southeast corner reported the least precipitation, at just under 0.5 inch.

USDA reported that about three and a half days last week were suitable for fieldwork in Missouri. Though ahead of most other states at 27% of their corn planted, Missouri is just as far behind its five-year average of 52%. Planting was likely slowed down by widespread dryness and low soil temperatures early in the season.

The Crop Progress Report noted that Missouri topsoil moisture levels were rated 0% very short, 1% short, 72% adequate, and 27% surplus. Missouri subsoil moisture levels were rated as 0% very short, 3% short, 83% adequate, and 14% surplus.

INDIANA

Map of drought conditions for Indiana for May 3
Photo credit: U.S. Drought Monitor

Indiana remained drought-free this week. The state has had no dry or drought warnings since October 5 of last year.

During the week of April 26 to May 3, most of the state saw less than 1 inch of precipitation, resulting in three and a half days suitable for fieldwork. USDA says only 6% of the state’s corn has been planted. The state’s five-year average for this point in the season is 25%. 

In the north, Wabash, Huntington, and Blackford counties received the most precipitation, averaging 2.25 inches. In the west, Warren and Vermillion counties reported less than a quarter-inch, the lowest in the state. 

The Crop Progress Report indicated Indiana topsoil moisture levels were rated 0% very short, 2% short, 68% adequate, and 30% surplus. Indiana subsoil levels were rated 1% very short, 3% short, 72% adequate, and 24% surplus.

OHIO

Map of drought conditions for Ohio for May 3
Photo credit: U.S. Drought Monitor

Ohio has not reported any drought conditions since the beginning of 2022, and conditions remain unchanged. The state has reported no worse than abnormally dry conditions since January 2020. 

The state reported about three days were suitable for fieldwork last week, a slight improvement from the previous week’s two days. The drier conditions have allowed producers out into the fields, and corn planting has begun: 3% of corn has been planted in the state, 13% behind the five-year average.

The state saw an average of 1.25 inches of precipitation. Madison County, in the center of the state, received the least precipitation, totaling less than 0.25 inch. Clermont County in the south reported just over 1.6 inches, the most in the seven days. 

Ohio topsoil moisture levels were rated 0% very short, 1% short, 69% adequate, and 30% surplus. Ohio subsoil moisture levels were rated 0% very short, 0% short, 71% adequate, and 29% surplus.

According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Ohio’s soils have a low to moderate holding moisture capacity. As less rain comes, the topsoil and subsoil moisture levels will quickly reduce, sending the numbers from surplus to adequate. Surplus soil levels may be less of a concern in states like Ohio because of their soil moisture capacity.

SOUTH DAKOTA

Map of drought conditions for South Dakota for May 3
Photo credit: U.S. Drought Monitor

Lee Lubbers, a corn and soybean farmer in Gregory, South Dakota, says the state has been not only incredibly dry but cold and windy. The combination of those three conditions meant planters have been unable to get into the fields in the past week weeks.

As there has been difficulty getting into the fields, only 3% of cornfields have been planted, trailing South Dakota’s five-year average of 13%. 

On Friday, April 29, Chase County received around 4 to 5 inches of rain. The rest of the western half of the state saw about half an inch of rain over the week. The eastern half, closer to Missouri, saw more totals closer to 5 and 6 inches.

Once the fields dry off, Lubbers says farmers in his area will finally have some moisture to plant into. Before this, there wasn’t enough to sprout soybeans, and corn growers had to be no-till to find any kind of moisture.

“The rain will give us enough moisture to plant for a while, and the wheat will take off and grow,” Lubbers says, “The rain will give the cattle guys a first cutting of hay and something for getting the grass going in the pastures. All in all, this rain was an absolute blessing and everyone is thankful for it.”

South Dakota reported a significant reduction in drought intensity this week thanks to the rain. Severe drought conditions were reported in only Charles Mix and Bon Homme counties. Overall, 82% of the state reported abnormally dry conditions or worse.

The Crop Progress Report showed South Dakota topsoil moisture levels were rated 11% very short, 31% short, 49% adequate, and 9% surplus. South Dakota subsoil moisture levels were rated 13% very short, 38% short, 43% adequate, and 6% surplus.

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