Drought conditions in Iowa continued to worsen this week, creating more challenges for farmers and ranchers in the nation’s Corn Belt. As the drought worsens in much of Nebraska, Kansas and northern Montana, so does much of Iowa and South Dakota, and across the nation.
By the end of June, nearly half of Iowa was experiencing unusually dry conditions. In the four months since then, Iowa has continued to experience drought, and now 12 of its counties have been designated a USDA disaster.
South Dakota is also struggling. Almost ¾ of the states are experiencing moderate or exceptional drought, the highest designation for drought in the US Drought Monitoring System.
But it’s not just dry grass that plagues producers – drought brings many problems. From wildfires to grasshopper infestations to dried-up water sources, farmers and ranchers are seeing setbacks across the board.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitoring Agency, 100% of Iowa is in abnormally dry conditions, with more than 87.7% in moderate or worse, more than double last month’s 41.9%. 38.3% of Iowa is in severe drought, mostly in the northwest and southeast parts of the state. A growing area east of Sioux City is suffering from severe drought.
As a result, 84% of Iowa’s cattle, 91% of hogs, 82% of hay, 90% of soybeans and 87% of corn fall into a moderate to severe drought zone. Based on last year’s figures, that’s 3,234,000 head of cattle; 21,749,000 hogs; 1,033,200 hectares of hay; and 20,313,000 acres of corn and soybeans.
More than 73,000 Iowa farms and ranches are located in areas experiencing moderate to severe drought or worse. One of those producers is Brian Weaver. Weaver family homestead in 1867. was 30 miles east of Sioux City, Iowa, and they have been farming and ranching ever since.
“My brother and I are very well established,” Weaver says, but they’ve been affected by the drought. “We’ve been dry for three years now… a lot of the pastures around look like an exercise field.”
According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, only 26 percent of pastures are rated as good to excellent, meaning most Iowa farmers are facing an extraordinary grazing situation.
Like most producers, Weaver keeps things short. “Our corn at most was probably down at least 25 percent … corn silage … basically the crop was at least 50 bushels or short.” And beans…we’re easily 10 to 15 bushels short here in this area…alfalfa and grass shortness is at least 30 percent,” Weaver says.
“Everything ripened at least two weeks early, and there was little or no propane used to dry the crops,” says Weaver. “When there are not so many, the harvest is faster.
However, reduced yields are not the only disadvantage of drought.
“The local fire department is basically always on patrol,” Weaver says. “These machines start fires in cornfields, and my God, they can burn quickly.
Weaver has long been wary of such conditions, so he handles things quite conservatively. Some time in Montana in his youth really stuck with Weaver, so he always acted a little more Western.
“When I was out there, I always found out they would have three years of hay. When things were good, they made hay like crazy.
As for his pasture: “We are very conservative with it. We’ve been out of business for we’ve forgotten how long…just forever,” says Weaver. “And boy, the minute I can get those cows off the grass — there’s corn stalks — I want those cows off.”
“We’ve had a pasture rotation arrangement since it wasn’t even a thing, and I’m very conservative with my numbers,” Weaver says.
“I’ve always undergrazed… people tease me – ‘Oh, you’re leaving all this grass!'” – But anything I can leave out there will rain and the cows will eat it next year.
His feed situation isn’t as dire as some, but Weaver says he’s seeing “more and more big water problems in these rural areas.” Streams, springs, where you usually hear cattle – they are dry.
“We’ve been here since 1867 … and we have a 40-foot well that’s never gone dry … he’s struggling.
Looking ahead, Weaver worries about the lack of soil moisture.
“We have never experienced a winter this dry. Hybrids and these plants are so good these days, but they need rain. “This place is just desperately dry … it needs a lot of moisture to recover.”
According to NASS, up to 84 percent topsoil and 87 percent subsoil moisture are deficient or severely deficient in some areas.
“Farmers always have something to complain about, but boy, Iowa is just dry,” Weaver says.
Kenny Fox, a rancher in Belvidere, South Dakota, says, “It’s not the first time this has happened to us, but it’s probably the second driest in the 34 years we’ve lived here. ”
“We’re feeding all our cows hay right now because of the drought and the grasshoppers,” Fox says. “I’ve never had to start feeding hay so early in my life.
“We’ve sold calves early and we’ve sold a lot of cows in the last two years. This is the second year of drought. We got no hay this year, and last year we got very little. So we are thinning the herd.
As in Iowa, Fox says, “Our water situation is critical. Most of our dams are dry,” says Fox.
“It’s just part of this business, these droughts happen from time to time, so we try to prepare for them.” Even so, Fox says, “We didn’t expect it to be this dry.
“What we’ve done in the past is we’ve got wells here, so we’ve put in a pipeline. It was a blessing to still be able to provide water for the animals,” says Fox. “When we have extra money, we build a mile or two of pipeline to prepare for these droughts.”
Although droughts are often caused by natural and unpredictable causes, there are several things producers can do to better protect themselves from disasters, including adopting more sustainable farming practices, improving soil health, and adopting better water management techniques.
Above all, agronomists suggest keeping a close eye on pasture regrowth, avoiding tillage to conserve soil moisture, and doing everything you can to prepare for persistent dry conditions.
While producers like Fox and Weaver are often the first in the community to experience the ravages of drought, it doesn’t take long for the ripple effects to affect the entire nation. According to Drought.gov, since 1980 The U.S. experienced 26 droughts, each costing an average of $9.6 billion. This is a staggering amount of at least $249 billion. USD suffered due to drought in the last 50 years. The only costlier climate disaster is a hurricane.
“Drought does not have a clear beginning and end like tornadoes, hurricanes or floods. It begins and ends slowly, and we often don’t notice the effects of drought for weeks, months, or even years. That’s why we often say that drought is a creeping natural hazard,” says the National Drought Mitigation Center.
Like all other droughts, there is no doubt that this one will have serious short-term and long-term consequences. Most manufacturers will take a big hit this year.
Weaver says, “When it’s this dry, it’s just another 30% off your premium line.”
In South Dakota, Fox expects, “We may have to sell more cows or buy a lot more feed.” Nevertheless, he remains hopeful.
“Pray for rain,” says Fox. “Someday it will rain, it always does. We are one day closer than we were.