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Drought conditions hold steady across the U.S. with some spotty relief

Crop conditions continue to decline.

The North American Monsoon hit the southwestern United States this past week, bringing a modicum of drought relief, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and eastern California saw some relief, as did central Montana.

Meanwhile, in the Heartland, localized heavy rains brought spotty improvement and record disastrous flooding in St. Louis, where a record 8 to 11 inches of rain fell in 24 hours. West central Missouri missed the worst of the storm and benefitted from nearly 2 inches of rain.

Missouri drought map 7/27/22

Lynn Fahrmeier of Lafayette County, Missouri, says as a result some of the nervousness about this year’s crop has subsided.

“We may be looking at a decent crop now,” says Fahrmeier, “but we still need rain in August. Particularly, early planted corn and beans are looking good, but crops put in after a spring wet spell are “not great.”

Fahrmeier is well aware he and his neighbors are the lucky ones in the big picture. 

“I sure feel sorry for those folks in western Kansas, Oklahoma and Colorado,” he says. “It’s real, and it’s bad.”

Parts of southern and eastern Colorado did see beneficial rains this past week. 

Flash drought in northeast Texas and eastern and central Oklahoma has caused severe crop deterioration, and a combination of dry and hot weather worsened conditions in southern Kansas. Extreme drought has expanded in parts of southwest Nebraska.

But, overall, a comparison of the Drought Monitor map to last week’s showed little change. 

U.S. drought map 7/27/22

Most drought expansion and retraction was localized, with the exception of southeastern Oklahoma and southern Arkansas/northern Mississippi, which saw drought conditions worsen.

Drought also expanded in northeast Nebraska and southeast South Dakota, and short-term drought spread in parts of the Northeast, where temperatures registered 4 to 8 degrees above normal and calls went out for water conservation measures.

In Iowa, the drought continued its expansion, with only 43.91% of the state drought free, compared to 52.97% one week ago. D3 to D4 conditions took over 3.23% of the state, compared to 2.47% last week, the worst in heavy crop-producing Plymouth County.

Iowa drought map 7/27/22

In Nebraska, conditions went from bad to worse with only 11.07% of the state now drought free. Conditions in the southwest and northeast are the worst. One year ago, around 30% of the state was drought free.

Nebraska drought map 7/27/22

Crop conditions

This should be the Corn Belt’s time to shine. The USDA released its weekly Crop Progress report Monday afternoon. The report covers July 18 to 24.

While the report lists corn crop conditions as above normal for Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, and the Dakotas, the rest of the region is in trouble. 

In the top 18 corn growing states, crop condition was rated only 61% good/excellent, a 3% drop from last week.

“After another warm week statewide, corn pollination is nearly complete for portions of Iowa as soybeans continue to bloom and set pods,” said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig. “Much of Iowa received at least some rain, though not enough to ease drought conditions. Forecasts show near-seasonal temperatures and isolated chances of rain through the end of July.”

According to Monday’s report, 66% of Iowa corn is silking or beyond, four days behind last year and three days behind the five-year average. Eight percent of the corn crop has reached the dough stage, five days behind last year and two days behind average. 

Kevin Moss, in southwest Iowa’s Adair County, says most crops in his area are “short” as if they are “waiting to grow.”

“Things are just stalled,” says Moss.

Corn and soybeans planted prior to a June 7 hailstorm are holding steady. Crops that were replanted after the storm have only seen about 1 inch of rain since going in.

“It looks like it will be a crop insurance year,” says Moss.

Iowa’s soybean condition rating was 75% good to excellent, according to the weekly Crop Progress report.

The report also says 77% of the state’s second cutting of alfalfa is complete, but Moss says the yields were not great. His second cutting of alfalfa was about one-third of the first cutting, and the first cutting was significantly less than normal.

“There won’t be a third cutting,” says Moss.

Pasture conditions across the state are deteriorating, with 50% rated good to excellent, and some producers are already supplementing with hay.

Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship State Climatologist Justin Glisan reports the statewide weekly average rainfall for the week of July 18 was 0.37 inch while the normal is 1 inch. The week’s high temperature of 100º Fahrenheit was 15 degrees above normal. Only the northeastern corner of the state measured above-average rainfall totals, that from strong thunderstorms.

Looking ahead, the National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center is forecasting above normal precipitation and below normal temperatures across much of the western United States next week.

Elsewhere, rainfall is forecast to remain generally spotty.

About the Author: Terri Queck-Matzie lives in Greenfield, Iowa, where she has turned her nearly 25 years of experience in print and radio journalism into a successful freelance career. Terri grew up on the family farm and has spent her life in the midst of crop and livestock production.

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