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Drought affects to linger

By Staff | Mar 27, 2013

“Row crops will use 21 to 22 inches of water. If the soil is short going into the year and not enough rain comes, then problems with yields will develop.” —Mark Licht ISU Extension agronomy field specialist



BREDA – Climate records show that severe droughts, as experienced in 2012, will continue to affect yields the following year and perhaps even longer.

Mark Licht, an Iowa State University agronomist, provided this factoid to an estimated 80 people at a farm meeting on March 22 in Breda.

Presenting records that show severe droughts can continue to stress row crops for 12 to 30 months after the event, farmers should expect below-trendline yields in 2013, even though they may harvest more grain than in 2012.

Knowing that the snow and rain experienced in northwest and central Iowa since Oct. 1, 2012 have done little to recharge subsoil profiles, he offered a series of strategies farmers may consider for the 2013 growing season to make best use of what moisture there will be available. These include:

1. Reduced tillage methods to preserve soil moisture that is present.

2. No-till and drill soybeans.

3. Reduce corn populations by 2,000 to 4,000 plants per acre.

4. Plant corn after mid-April.

5. Understand that “early corn planted early” doesn’t work in Iowa.

Showing U.S. Drought Monitor maps, Licht said the western half of Iowa has emerged from persistent and severe drought status, but that doesn’t mean there is much moisture waiting to greet 2013’s row crop seeds.

“Snow melt doesn’t account for much,” Licht said, “and downpours don’t account for much either.”

He said the frozen topsoil has caused rain and snow melt to run off, recharging streams and rivers, but little, if any, has soaked into the ground.

“Row crops will use 21 to 22 inches of water,” Licht said. “If the soil is short going into the year and not enough rain comes, then problems with yields will develop.

“But even if we get enough precipitation, if temperatures are above-normal, that will hurt yields, too.”

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