Flooding Impacting Thousands of Iowa Crop Land Acres

Dan Zumbach lost 50 acres of corn when the Cedar River flooded. Yet he considers himself lucky.

Most of his 160 acres would have been lost if not for family, friends and neighbors who gathered Saturday with combines, grain carts and semitrailer trucks to harvest a field near Palo. They worked from noon until 11 p.m. before the rising waters forced them to quit.

“I didn’t ask for help. Neighbors asked neighbors, and they just showed up,” said Zumbach, a Republican state lawmaker who lives near Ryan. “There’s no way I could have done that by myself.”

Iowa’s widespread thunderstorms and torrential rains have done more than flood Iowa’s cities and towns. They have also slowed much of the state’s corn and soybean harvest.

Officials are trying to assess how many acres have been impacted by flooding, but it’s likely to be thousands, they say.

Many farmers hope to begin combining in the next couple days, but it could take some growers as long as two weeks before they’re able to harvest soybeans and corn, said state Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey, who farms near Spirit Lake, an area that also was inundated with rain last week.

The shrinking window to reap what’s expected to be a record harvest is adding to an already stressful year. Many growers are struggling to post a profit, and they’re hoping strong yields will help offset lower corn and soybean prices.

Cedar River peaks below projections; flood walls holding
Corn at Iowa elevators averaged around $2.90 a bushel Tuesday, an Iowa Department of Agriculture report showed, and soybeans traded close to $8.90 a bushel.

“Even if everything was going perfectly, the dollars might not cover the operating loans needed to put the crop in the ground,” Northey said.

Even before the flooding, U.S. farm income was forecast to fall 12 percent this year to $71.5 billion from a year ago, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates.

A cornfield sits flooded up to the top of the stalks in some places on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, in Cedar Falls. Zumbach said he will see losses from his partially flooded field.

“A lot of folks don’t realize the huge investment farmers have in a crop, and with a disaster like this … you go backward. It’s tens of thousands of dollars,” Zumbach said.

Kevin Maloney, who farms near Manchester, lost about 10 acres of crops to the Maquoketa River that runs along his farm.

The cattleman also has about 60 acres of pasture under water. The silt and debris will make the field unusable for grazing.

“I’m done for the season feeding cattle in that pasture,” he said.

The receding waters left behind a layer of mud in his cornfield. The ears weren’t submerged, but Maloney said he’ll need a few days to decide if the crop can be salvaged.

“We’ll have to be cautious,” Maloney said. “Any affected acres will have to be tilled under.”

Submerged corn or soybeans can’t be used for food or feed, including ethanol plants that sell dried distillers grain to livestock producers, said Mark Licht, an Iowa State University Extension cropping systems agronomist.

And the rain and humidity is promoting mold, which becomes a problem when corn and soybeans are stored, Licht said.

Elevators test for mold, among other things, and farmers can lose money if too much of the grain is damaged.

Licht said some farmers with frequent rains also have reported “sprouting,” where new corn plants sprout when water gathers inside the cobs.

Maloney has other concern as well. Cornstalks in saturated fields can break and fall, particularly after a strong wind.

“Once that corn is laying down, it’s difficult to harvest,” he said.

Downed or damaged grain is especially concerning this year, Maloney said, even with help from federal crop insurance.

“Losing 20 or 30 percent of your crop makes it a lot tighter,” he said, adding that expenses such as seed, fertilizer and rents haven’t dropped enough to match lower corn and soybean prices.

The commodities have lost at least half their value since reaching highs in 2011, a drought year.

Bumper crop tumbling corn, soybean prices
Mark Recker, who farms near Arlington, said a forecast that calls for no rain, a steady wind and warm temperatures will help dry out fields across the state.

Recker hopes to begin combining Wednesday.

“It’s nerve-racking, waiting,” Recker said. “The longer a crop is in the field, the more losses we could see.

“And there’s a lot of money on the table.”

Last year’s crop in Iowa was valued around $13.1 billion, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show.

Suzanne Shirbroun, who farms with her husband, Joe, and her parents near Farmersburg in Clayton County, said wet, hilly fields made harvesting corn difficult Tuesday.

“We farm on the contour, so you might slide a little bit,” she said, adding that wet fields make it difficult to unload combines onto grain carts or semis inside of the fields.

That all takes more time. “You know it’s going to be slow going,” Shirbroun said.

Source: Des Moines Register

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