Heat, drought takes toll on county farms, businesses
|Despite the rains in the last few days, Jasper County continues to suffer drought conditions. The South Skunk River is officially at 6.46 feet at Colfax. The record low is 5.18 feet on Aug. 18, 1988. (John Jennings/Daily News)|
This year’s hot and dry weather has many old-timers pointing to the drought years of 1934 and 1936 as a reference. Even State Climatologist Harry Hillaker said this has been the hottest start for July and the summer season since 1936.
Jasper County does not appear to be in dire straits yet, but without rain soon, conditions will get a lot worse.
Roger Zylstra farms about 700 acres with his son and this year planted 400 acres in corn and the rest in soybeans. Zylstra said he’s expecting about half a crop this year.
“If we could get some rain this weekend, that would help, but I’m probably looking at a loss of 40 to 100 bushels per acre,” Zylstra said. “This is the most severe drought we’ve dealt with in our lifetimes.”
Zylstra said he’s planted rootworm-resistant corn hybrid this year, but it’s still uncertain how those hybrids will react to the lack of rain.
With no cattle on his farm, Zylstra has not considered surrendering his corn crop to silage, but he said some neighbors have begun chopping up their crop.
The 5,000 hogs on Zylstra’s farm are faring well, he said, but with the extreme heat, they don’t have much of an appetite, and are not putting on much weight. He has not lost any animals due to the heat, however.
Jasper County’s corn crop appears to be in better shape than some parts of the state, according to Key Co-op’s location manager Matt Kauffman at Newton’s rail site.
“Corn is definitely taking a hit, but we seem to be in better shape than some areas,” Kauffman said. “I’m guessing that we’ll be down in expected yields by 40 to 60 bushels per acre with an average corn yield of 130 to 150 bushels per acre this year.”
That would represent a rather average crop, but not devastating. Rain in the next week or so, could change that, Kauffman said.
“A rain soon would allow the corn to fill in kernels, adding to the test weight,” he said. “As for soybeans, they have taken a hit. The pods set and fill in August.”
He said some rain could be beneficial, but no rain would be horrible.
“We’re buying a lot of old crop now,” Kauffman said. “Cash corn is at $8.08 per bushel, and it was at $6.25 a few weeks ago.”
But a major concern Kauffman has is the effect the drought may be having on the corn crop in the field. Prolonged dry weather has a tendency to increase the incidence of aflatoxin, a mold that grows on corn ears, and is extremely toxic to animals and humans.
Iowa State University guidelines for aflatoxin call for no more than 300 parts per billion of aflatoxin in corn that will be used for finishing cattle. The corn needs to be tested in the field, Kauffman said, and the worry is that while the test is covered under federal crop insurance, there may be too few insurance adjusters to go around during the crucial harvest time.
He said the Key Co-op is working on guidelines for testing when the corn crop is brought in for sale.
Heat hurting sales
Scott Farver, owner of Farver True Value in Newton, said the drought has had an effect on lawn mower sales and service.
“This heat doesn’t do much for lawn mower sales and service,” Farver said. “But what you lose in lawn mower sales, you make up for somewhat in sales of hoses and sprinklers. You lose in one segment and make up in another.”
Farver said power equipment suppliers for True Value have complained that their sales throughout the state have been lower than average due to the drought.
In Prairie City, Gene Snetselaar, owner of Prairie Ag Supply, said farmers are trying to wait out the drought before making those big purchases.
“You can’t blame them. They’re just waiting on the rain,” Snetselaar said. “They’re just reluctant to do anything and hoping they have federal crop insurance.”
Lawn mower sales have been slow at Prairie Ag as well, starting out good early in the year but following suit with the drought. Pasture land has been struggling as well, with grass slow to come back after grazing. Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, in his weekly crop and weather report, noted that 75 percent of the state’s pasture and range land is rated poor to very poor.
“Service is down, but we’re still doing decent, but not what it would be if the farmers kept mowing,” Snetselaar said.
John Jennings can be contacted at (641) 792-3121 ext. 425 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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