When we think of natural disasters, we usually think of raging floods or killer tornadoes. They are dramatic and loud.
We don’t always think about the quiet death of droughts.
But with severe to extreme drought covering the heart of the Corn Belt — all of Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, most of Indiana, western Kentucky and the southern half of Wisconsin — we have a natural disaster with implications far beyond the floods of 1993 or 2008, or the 2011 Joplin tornado.
The floods and the tornado were devastating to people directly in their paths, but a lot of people weren’t affected at all.
Failing crops and the subsequent effect on meat production, farm income and the price of everything made from corn and soybeans — food, but also many other things — is all-encompassing.
As Ray Wolf, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Davenport, observed, “The impact of this drought is significant on a global scale.”
He also pointed out that when we have a drought, it is often regional and farmers can get help — such as hay for their livestock — from other places. Not so this year.
EXCEDRIN UPDATE: I received a call a couple of weeks ago from a staff member of “Good Morning America” asking about my April 15 column headlined “Excedrin recall gives me a headache.”
The ABC-TV morning show was researching a piece on the pain reliever recall that has been ongoing since January.
“Would it surprise you to know that people are paying as much as $400 on eBay for real Excedrin?” the woman asked.
I had to confess that nothing anyone does online — or with their money — surprises me much anymore.
I also had to confess that, thrilling as the prospect of appearing on national television is, I have found a generic replacement with the exact same ingredients as Excedrin, and it seems to be working.
Asked whether I would return to Excedrin if it became available again, I said it would depend on the price.
And that was the end of my opportunity for fame.
BOOKS YOU DON’T NEED TO READ: I received some nice response to my column last week about books.
Two points I left out: Would that I had back the time I spent reading “The Corrections” by Jonathan Frazen. And despite “the lists,” no one really needs to read “Ulysses” by James Joyce or “The Faire Queen” by Edmund Spencer. I said so.
JAPANESE BEETLES: From what I’ve heard, JB populations were a little hit and miss this year. That is, I personally had about five beetles while other people were slammed.
Glenn Drowns, who raises heirloom plants and poultry in rural Calamus, Iowa, used an organic product called Pyganic, and so many beetles ended up on the ground that the soil looked as though it had been mulched.
It turns out, though, that chickens and ducks are an even more effective weapon, although that is not a practical solution for the general public.
“By our old house ( now a seed office), I had them (beetles) hanging by the hundreds on the weeds, flowers and shrubs,” Drowns explains. “They were so thick they glistened in the sunlight and were eating everything.
“I turned out the ducks in one area and they scooped them up and picked them off the plants with diligence. On the other side of the fence, I turned out all of the young turkeys and chickens. They — especially the turkeys — went from plant to plant and ate every one of them. You cannot find a single beetle now in that entire area.”
As a child, Drowns said his dad had the job of herding turkeys across fields and pastures that were inundated with locusts and grasshoppers.
“He used to tell me that the turkey herd was all that saved many of the fields.”
WATER FLOW DOWN: The Iowa, Wapsipinicon and Cedar rivers are all running at less than 10 percent of normal stream flow, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
At Davenport’s Nahant Marsh, water levels are the lowest they’ve been in at least 15 years, said Brian Ritter, the facilitator there.
There have been a couple of fishkills because the water is so low and so warm. The kills aren’t necessarily a bad thing because the fewer fish — particularly carp — in a marsh, the better. That’s because carp are like pigs in the sense that they constantly root around the marsh bottom, disturbing the clarity of the water and preventing plants from germinating, Ritter explained.
“A marsh like this should have plants growing all the way across,” he said.
Because of the kills, birds and other wildlife have been feasting. “We’ve had tons of shore birds, 60 egrets, families of raccoons and foxes,” he said.
The mosquito population is down, the tick population is up and there seem to be very few butterflies, he said.
And New England asters, a native prairie flower that normally blooms in October, began flowering in early July.
With flowers blooming early and trees under stress, we may have a pretty bland fall in terms of color.
GARDEN GROWERS TURNOUT: Just before the weather turned hot some six weeks ago, The Garden Growers held their eighth annual Great Garden Showoff garden walk.
The event attracted 3,634 visitors over two weeknights. Wow!