Drought is one of the top concerns facing many Midwestern farmers in 2023, but even with some replenishing rain potential this spring, many areas could still be in trouble.
In a recent survey of subsoil moisture in northwest Iowa, Iowa State University Extension found nearly every site tested is at least 2.5 inches below normal, with most locations showing more than 4 inches below normal. This could impact decisions for 2023.
“It’s difficult to say,” Gentry Sorenson, Iowa State Extension field agronomist said. “Some farmers may not till their ground as much as they have in the past to conserve moisture.”
In the most recent drought monitor, northwest Iowa has seen no relief, with portions of Monona and Woodbury counties reaching Exceptional Drought, the highest rating available. The drought gradually eases the further east one travels across the state, with the exception coming in southeast Iowa, which shows Severe Drought.
This comes after Iowa suffered the 29th driest summer on record in the last 150 years, according to data from state climatologist Justin Glisan. Recent rains at the end of November and early December have been helpful so far, as many soils haven’t had a chance to freeze too hard.
“I talked to some guys (about rains on Dec. 15) and they thought it took pretty well,” Sorenson said. “Soil temperatures have been hovering around 32 to 36 so it’s barely not frozen. The top inch or two is so dry right now it’s taking whatever it can get.”
Much of western and southeast Missouri is also under some form of drought classification, while northeast and southern Illinois are suffering from Severe Drought classifications or worse.
The top months for soil replenishment come in March and April, Sorenson noted. In his region of northwest Iowa, three to five inches of rain is typical during that stretch, but more may be needed.
“It’s hard to tell what Mother Nature will bring us as far as moisture going into spring,” he said. “Typically we get three to five inches of regular rainfall in the spring. A crop typically needs about 20 inches of moisture to produce a crop, so we may need to rely on continuous rainfall going into next year.”
Ray Wolf, a National Weather Service meteorologist who specializes in agriculture, said rain and snow should help this winter as well, but quick, hard rains could cause more problems in the form of runoff or erosion.
“Deeper soils are still pretty dry in some locations,” he said. “You aren’t getting much precipitation in the winter anyway, and if the soil is frozen it might just run off. That’s another complication. If we can get in the right pattern in the spring time, things could get better in a hurry.”
Another factor to watch for – if those needed rains come, there could be some delay with spring planting season.