Timely rains salvaged Iowa crop yields

By: - October 15, 2021 3:37 pm

Farmers harvest corn west of Lanesboro in Carroll County on Oct. 15, 2021. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Corn and soybean yields in drought-stricken parts of northern Iowa were saved this year by sporadic rainfall that fortuitously arrived each time crops were in desperate need.

“The corn in June, you thought some of it was going to die,” said Darrell Henkenius, the chief executive of Farmers Cooperative Elevator Company in Arcadia. “We had a timely rain around the Fourth of July, and more recent rains helped quite a bit.”

About 56% of the state’s soybean crop had been harvested early this week, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and about 30% of corn was harvested.

A pile of corn from recently harvested fields is forming at NEW Cooperative in Lidderdale in Carroll County. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

It’s too early to say how corn yields will finish, but Henkenius said some Crawford County farmers netted between 250 and 280 bushels per acre, which is well ahead of the predicted statewide average of about 200. In that county, hail damage was a bigger problem than the drought.

“I even heard a guy say this morning that even in his hail corn, it was still over 200 bushels,” Henkenius said Thursday.

Not everyone was so fortunate, though. John McDaniel, the chief executive of Farmers Cooperative Society in Sioux Center, said some farms near the South Dakota border were bereft of moisture and have corn yields as low as 150 bushels per acre and soybeans of 30, which is much lower than the 10-year statewide average of 53.

Much of the area was suffering from extreme drought ahead of planting season, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

“There are some areas that are going to be down substantially,” McDaniel said. “It was kind of hit and miss with the rain. We had some really timely rains in July and August, at least in this area.”

Rain, hail harder on crops in southeast Iowa

Farmers’ plights were different near Fairfield in southeast Iowa, where the start of the growing season was wet and cold — which forced some farmers to replant — and a significant hail storm struck in the middle of the summer. The worst fields have corn yields of 150 bushels per acre, said Mark Stevens, the manager of Heartland Co-op’s Fairfield location.

“That hail storm was right at tasseling,” he said. “A lot of corn came through it, but it made it look rough. Shortened it up about a foot but didn’t mess up the cobs.”

On the whole, reported yields across the state are better than what was predicted by visual inspections of the fields before harvest. Soybeans are expected to set a record this year, and corn might have its third-highest yield on record.

Those anticipated yields are significantly better than last year’s averages of 178 bushels per acre for corn and 53 for soybeans that were diminished by a derecho storm.

 Crop prices are down from this summer, but corn is 25% higher than it was a year ago, and soybeans are 9% higher.

McDaniel, in Sioux Center, said the latest crop hybrids that farmers grow are seemingly impervious to extended periods of drought.

“I don’t want to totally call them bulletproof, but they’re awfully good,” he said. “Guys are just kind of shocked by the yields they get.”

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register.