NEWTON, Iowa — Charles Birkenholtz trudged through the muddy cornfield behind his home one afternoon last week inspecting the green tufts, about a few inches tall, emerging from the soaked ground.
Hours earlier, pools of water had collected in between the rows of sprouting corn, forming small rivers and lakes and threatening to drown any plant that dare poke its head out of the dirt to soak in the sunlight.
“They should be about this high by now,” Birkenholtz said of his crops, roughly measuring the desired height with his hands, which was less than 12 inches. “The corn ain’t growing very good. And everything is getting wet feet now.”
Days of constant rainfall have saturated farmers’ fields in Jasper County, delaying planting cycles and the growing speed of area corn and soybeans.
Some places are just downright flooded. Birkenholtz said he had about 10 acres covered in water. He expects the rainfall most likely affected some of the fertilizer he applied, too. All of his corn seed has been planted for the season, but Birkenholtz still has a few soybean fields to fill.
“My corn I got planted about the right time,” he said. “This corn just ain’t growing because it ain’t been warm enough. It’s just been too wet. It just seems like it ain’t doing anything because of the weather.”
Some water volumes are too great for the ground to take in right away, transforming some sections of cornfields into small ponds where nothing will grow until a harsh summer sun dries the ground and evaporates the standing water altogether.
After a rainfall, fields eventually absorb most of the water, leaving behind a dark, muddy surface. That’s fine when all the corn and soybeans have been planted, but recent crop reports from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) say Iowa farmers are a bit behind schedule.
According to the Iowa Crop Progress and Conditions Report released by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service May 20, heavy rainfall during the week of May 13-19 “limited farmers to 2.7 days suitable for fieldwork statewide.”
The USDA reported Iowa corn growers have 70 percent of the expected crop planted, which is “the smallest percent of corn planted by May 19 since 1995 when just 53 percent of the expected crop had been planted.” Likewise, 27 percent of the expected soybean crop has been planted.
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig said in the report, “Despite the wet conditions, farmers in northern and east central Iowa made notable gains, planting about one-quarter of their crop last week. We know farmers are anxious for a window of dry weather to wrap up in the fields.”
Farmer Don Wormley said it is going to take a whole lot of waiting before work can continue. Managing close to 750 acres of fields, Wormley estimates he has about 160 acres near the South Skunk River, which can be seen along U.S. Highway 14 due south of Newton, affected by rain accumulation.
“That lake is my field,” he said. “This is occurring more and more often it seems like for some reason. And the water seems to get deeper every year. Don’t know why, but it’s more frequent.”
Any crop that had been planted and subsequently drowned out by the water will most likely never germinate and just rot in the ground. Some might come up, Wormley reasoned, but chances are whatever sprouts up is going to die. If weather cooperates, those washed out areas in the fields could be replanted.
“Hopefully,” Wormley said. “It’ll be two weeks before it dries out down there. Part of it is not even planted yet.”
What really has Wormley surprised is the amount of water collecting on the hill ground fields farther away in proximity and elevation to the river bottom. The hills, he said, have not been this wet in 10 years or so. Wormley said he measured more than 7.4 inches of rain in his rain gauge since May 16, about the same amount Birkenholtz reported, as well.
Coupled with the wet harvest this past year and the subpar grain prices, Wormley said he hasn’t found a farmer that’s “really psyched up to go to the field this year at all.” Farmers just have to wait and see what happens and act accordingly.
“It’s all we can do,” Wormley said. “It needs to stop raining. Just stop raining.”
Gary Yoder, a career agent at Farm Bureau Financial Services, said if farmers have crop insurance then they certainly have flood insurance for their crops. If there is still time and it’s dry enough, farmers have the provisions to replant that crop. They also have provisions in their contract for preventive planning.
“That’s for if you were not able to even get a crop planted,” Yoder said. “If it was too wet and you went by the deadlines, then you would get a reduced payment from that crop insurance policy. The deadline to plant corn without a penalty is May 31. So if anybody has not got their corn in the ground yet, they’re kind of going to be out of luck.”
From June 1-25, farmers will have a 1 percent reduction in coverage per day. Crop policies are enforced March 15. If a crop was not put in the ground, there will be no insurance premium. Yoder said if they did plant then farmers owe premium and will get a “loss check.” He clarified there very well could be some due premium on a no-plant, also.
For those affected by flooded fields or have any questions about replant provisions or preventive planning, Yoder recommended they contact their crop insurance agent.