Drought worsens, crops threatened

2013-09-05T18:13:00Z 2013-09-06T11:06:52Z Drought worsens, crops threatenedThomas Geyer tgeyer@qctimes.com The Quad-City Times

Drought conditions worsened over the Quad-City region during the past week as no rain fell over what some are calling parched ground.

Most of the Iowa Quad-City counties, including Scott, Muscatine, Clinton and Cedar counties, are listed this week as being in a moderate drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday. Jackson County is listed as being abnormally dry.

In the Illinois Quad-Cities, Rock Island, Whiteside, Henry, Warren and Knox counties are listed in a moderate drought, while Carroll County is listed as abnormally dry.

A large swath of Mercer County, however, is listed as being in a severe drought. During last year’s drought, Mercer County was the oasis that got all the rain, with farmers there harvesting 180.1 bushels an acre out of their corn crop.

With so little water now and slim chances for significant widespread rain over the next eight days, farmers are concerned about what they’ll find when harvest time rolls around.

“It’s critical,” Taylor Ridge, Ill., farmer Tom Mueller said Tuesday, adding that he doesn’t remember having such hot weather so late in the season coupled with a drought.

While the corn kernels are set, he said, “I wonder if they’ll have any weight or depth to them.”

However, Mueller said, “The soybeans are what I’m really afraid for. They have pods, and the pods have beans in them, but will those beans be bigger than a BB is the question."

What may save the beans is that they went in the ground so late because of the wet planting season, he said. But the beans still need rain.

“We don’t need just rain,” Mueller said. “We need a rain event.”

Mueller said he likely will begin harvesting corn sooner than normal.

“The way the corn plant works, the ear gets priority. If it can’t get nutrients from the soil, and it can’t now because there has been no rain, the plant will cannibalize the stalk and try to get what it can from the stalk. That means a weaker stalk, and the plant is in danger of falling over.”

Thinking it over, Mueller said, “Six weeks ago, we never thought we’d be trying to get an insurance check. Unless we get some rain, it’s a real possibility, especially with the beans.”

Agronomist Virgil Schmitt of the Iowa State University Extension Office in Muscatine said both corn and soybean yields already have been adversely affected.

Meteorologist Tom Olsen of the National Weather Service, Davenport, said there is a 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms Saturday night, “but if we get anything, it will be hit and miss. It’s the convective nature of these showers. One place may get some, and the other place gets nothing.”

The record for the longest period without measurable rainfall in the Quad-Cities is 45 days set in fall of 1952, he said. The last measurable rainfall was Aug. 5.

“We’ve got two more weeks to go before we get near that record,” Olsen said.

In the meantime, it’s going to be hot. Today’s high is expected to reach 90 degrees, while Saturday’s high will near 93 degrees, Olsen said. A cool front comes in Sunday dropping the high temperature to 82, but that won’t last long as the highs Monday and Tuesday will be in the low to middle 90s.

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