Storm, Drought Challenge Iowa Farmers

Iowa Producers Urged to Take Active Role in Keeping Track of Fields

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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Iowa farmers are dealing with derecho storm damage and expanding drought conditions, just ahead of harvest. (DTN file photo by Matthew Wilde)

OMAHA (DTN) -- If damage to millions of acres of cropland and to grain storage numbering in tens of millions of bushels is enough for Iowa farmers to manage, growing drought conditions in the western part of the state are expected to further complicate an already complicated upcoming harvest season.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig said during a news conference on Friday that the situation farmers in the state face hasn't been seen before.

"We're talking about an incredibly devastating event in Iowa," he said.

It is an unprecedented situation with COVID-19 supply disruption, storm damage, combined with growing drought.

"Some fields are considered a complete loss," Naig said.

"If nothing else was happening we would be talking about drought that is the most widespread in Iowa since September 2013."

What's more, he said it's unsure how much propane will be available to Iowa farmers this harvest.

"I encourage farmers to take a look at their grain drying and home and livestock heating needs and formulate a plan with their propane suppliers to make sure their needs are covered and their tanks are full," Naig said.

The state of Iowa estimates 3 million to 4 million acres of corn and about 2.5 million acres of soybeans in 36 Iowa counties were in the path of the derecho's heaviest winds on Aug. 10.

USDA estimates about 14 million acres of crop-insurance-covered crops were in the path of the derecho.

"This truly is a field-by-field situation, Naig said.

"There is damage outside of the swath. We've got a widening impact from drought and it is compounding the wind issues."

Though up to 120 million bushels of grain storage was lost in the storm, grain losses from drought and the derecho may ease harvest storage concerns.

Charles Hurburgh, professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State University and professor in charge of the Iowa Grain Quality Initiative, said farmers have to be careful about where they store.

Hurburgh said he doesn't recommend farmers store grain in on-farm piles because it's "hard to control quality. I don't think we'll keep grain in temporary storage for long."

There will be localized areas where loss of storage will be an issue.

In areas of the state where grain storage is limited, some producers may consider using older storage facilities not currently in use.

Naig said if that's the case, farmers need to be safe while working around those facilities.

Hurburgh said producers should make sure older facilities are electronically sound and thoroughly cleaned before use.

GRAIN QUALITY ISSUES

Iowa producers are likely to face a wide range of grain quality issues.

Hurburgh said drought reduces yield and makes grain susceptible to molds and toxins.

"The storm laid over acres on the ground, stopped crop development immediately," he said. "The crop was at the start of denting when it happened."

Storm-damaged corn likely will see low test weights because stalks were snapped before kernels could finish filling out. Much of that storm-damaged corn, he said, will be soft and difficult to store because of mold and toxin threats.

"It all creates challenges for use and marketing," Hurburgh said.

"With crop insurance, make sure you have an accurate conversation with your adjuster, quality is hard to adjust. You have representative sampling, testing accuracy and food safety issues. You need to know how to handle and the best way to measure them. If grain is harvested have a conversation with your marketer."

Grain quality issues has a negative effect on ethanol production and livestock feed quality.

"Even low-quality grain can be isolated," Hurburgh said.

"Try to keep bad grain out of market commerce. If grain is in the field and not harvested, scout frequently, look for mold on ears. If you are going to feed grain yourself, consult with your veterinarian. Have good testing on oil content and on toxins."

All livestock have certain and differing levels of acceptance for toxins in feed.

"There's quite a few complications that arise when you have quality complications," he said.

"It is wide-spread, and it will be a challenge because of the scope of the drought and storm damage."

Because grain quality is not static, Hurburgh said farmers should continue to monitor crops as weather changes and further deterioration is possible.

"It's a dynamic situation," he said.

"Take a very active role and scout regularly."

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

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Todd Neeley