Soil moisture is varied across the Midwest. The western region of the Corn Belt has been dealing with drought over the past couple of seasons, and those dry conditions are being felt toward the east as well.
“Even over here in eastern Iowa, the further north I go, the drier it is,” Iowa State University field agronomist Virgil Schmitt said. “The further south I go, the fewer problems there are.”
Moderate drought is found in a portion of 48 counties in Iowa, with two counties showing severe drought, according to the March 24 U.S. Drought Monitor map. That moderate drought is spreading into northern Illinois, with 16 counties showing dry conditions and two, to the northeast, showing severe drought.
Despite those conditions, Schmitt said he isn’t overly worried about getting the crop planted in the eastern portion of Iowa and western Illinois, but other areas may not be as lucky.
“We have enough moisture to get the crop off to a good start,” he said. “There will be parts of the state that it’s questionable if they’ll get the crop germinated. It could run out of moisture before the root system gets down deep enough to take advantage of moisture down below.”
Even with the ability to plant the crop with confidence, there will still need to be additional rain to carry the crop through, he said.
Clarabell Probasco, an Iowa State Extension field agronomist, said they are facing different problems in her region of southeast Iowa, northeast Missouri and western Illinois.
“We’ve had normal and some might even say less than normal precipitation as far as snow, but we have gotten a decent amount of rain,” she said. “We are well saturated.”
Although those regions have been hit with rain, moisture is lacking deep below the surface. Probasco said she’s heard of people digging a couple of feet and finding dry soils.
“Based on how wet we have been and how we we are going to be going into this year, it could very well push back planting,” she said. “Insurance kicks in at, what, April 15, so that’s really only two weeks out if we are thinking about that.”
There have been recent rainy days to close out March, which Schmitt said have helped replenish a bit of the soil moisture. Due to the dry soils in the northern portion of the state, he said it has come with virtually no runoff as there is plenty of room in the ground for absorption, with more space for rain if needed.
“Usually in the top 5 feet we have somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 inches of available moisture,” he said. “Our soils are capable of around 10-12 inches of moisture, unless we are talking about just pure sand. I would guess we are probably 2-3 inches below normal for soil moisture, which a good slow soaking rain will help with that.”
He said the next months will be the defining factor for the season.
“July and August are generally lacking in moisture,” he said. “The crops are using more moisture then, so coming out of June we need to have that soil profile pretty well filled up. Those rains in May and June are going to be the ones that tell the tale.”