Drought has destroyed corn crops in Missouri to the point that some farmers are baling them for feed — a reflection of pastures so poor, farmers are reducing cattle numbers.
Illinois farmers say that with some timely rains in August, soybean crops still have potential. In parts of Iowa, things are uncertain and could go either way.
This year it is particularly noticeable where farmers have gotten consistent rain, says Lance Tarochione, a western Illinois farmer and DeKalb/Asgrow technical agronomist. Where they missed the rains, they keep missing them. There are meteorological reasons why this happens, but knowing that doesn’t help those dealing with it.
Across the nine western Illinois counties Tarochione covers, rainfall in July varied from very little to 10 inches. Some areas got too much and some not enough.
“Crops are better than feared in June, but not as good as people thought in July,” he says.
This year patience didn’t pay off for some farmers.
“It’s been a good year for
early-planted corn in west central Illinois,” says Tarochione, who farms near London Mills in Fulton County, Illinois.
Tar spot is showing up where there has been some moisture, but where it has been too dry for corn to grow, it has been too dry for tar spot to develop, he says.
Corn rootworm beetle counts are also seeing an up-tick with the dry weather. For several reasons, including 2015 weather drawing down the larvae population, increased corn-soybean rotations, and hybrid traits, corn rootworm populations have been considerably lower for almost a decade, Tarochione says. But in the last couple of years, they have been increasing and this year looks like a significant year.
“We might be close to a tipping point where we will notice more issues with rootworm again,” he says.
“I saw my first field with red crown rot this year last week,” he says.
Illinois Soybean Association agronomists have been seeing it across the state, says Ron Kindred, president of the ISA and a McLean County farmer. Damage looks similar to phytophthora and sudden death syndrome.
Tarochione has also seen high rates of soybean cyst nematode this year and some weed issues.
Weed control took a hit without rains to activate herbicides. When the rains came, weeds surged.
“After the rains, weeds shot up,” Kindred says.
Waterhemp is the big thing. Velvet leaf is a big problem in some areas. The restrictions on timing on dicamba were an issue for some this year, he says.
It’s not just resistance — it’s poor activation because of lack of timely rains and soybeans slow to canopy, says Mike Witt, Iowa State University field agronomist and Extension specialist.
He says there is some tar spot in corn and some white mold in beans, but not at a high level because of the weather this year.
As for insects, Witt says gall midge have damaged some soybeans in west central Iowa, some grasshopper damage has been reported and corn rootworm numbers have been “fairly significant in some areas.”
But disease won’t be the biggest robber of soybean potential this year. Drought stress is.
While Kindred has seen some drought stress in Illinois, he says it’s much worse in Missouri. On recent travel to the state, he saw some “pretty rough crops.”
“It’s really ugly. … Most folks quite frankly are writing off the corn crop,” says Gene Schmitz with University of Missouri Extension, based in Pettis County.
“We have had a rough start to the year,” agrees Terry Halleran, regional field agronomist for Missouri Extension.
Most of the state is at D3 and D4 on the U.S. Drought Monitor.
“In some areas, the corn crop is a total loss and they will be getting crop insurance,” says Halleran, in Hickory County in southwest Missouri. A lot of farmers are chopping corn to feed cattle.
Farmers are reducing cattle numbers because of the lack of pasture, Halleran says.
In Illinois and Iowa, starting Aug. 2, the USDA declared an emergency allowing farmers to hay and graze CRP lands.
“We did that a month ago” in Missouri, Halleran said.
People mowed anything they could get a baler over.
“Some shouldn’t have been baled,” he said.
Even some early beans have been baled for cattle, he said. But he calls for caution with this practice as some of the herbicides used in soybeans are not approved for cattle feed.
Halleran also calls for caution with some of the emergency crops planted in June as the drought developed. He said sorghum could have high prussic acid levels and nitrates which could be risky to feed.
Some people didn’t get the cows off pasture soon enough and they “ate it down to the dirt.” It needs time to rebuild, Halleran says.
Crops that have been irrigated this year are expected to have significantly higher yields.
Jason Webster, Precision Planting’s lead commercial agronomist, says he expects corn fields that have been drip irrigated to perform better. He uses a retention pond for drip irrigating, but if it dries up, his option for irrigation ends, which is a possibility at this point.
Still, some Illinois farmers remain optimistic. Kindred sees hope for soybeans in central Illinois, but they need rain this month to finish off. Corn yields are hard to predict — it may depend on test weight, he says.
“Crops are on a knife’s edge” in west central Iowa, Witt says. Depending on the rain, they could go either way.