The latest U.S. Drought Monitor shows 11% of Iowa farmers are experiencing abnormal dryness at the start of their season. Parts of central and south-central Iowa, as well as extreme northeast Iowa, are affected.

“Abnormally dry is the least severe rating the U.S. Drought Monitor assigns,” says Mark Licht, Iowa State University Extension agronomist. “Presumably over the next two U.S. Drought Monitor releases,  those areas will increase due to drier and warmer weather over the past and next week.”

Drought conditions in Iowa

 

U.S. Drought Monitor

 

While farmers affected by these dry conditions aren't considered in a true drought, Licht says certain farming practices could help protect your fields against that situation if a drought does develop. 

“Maintaining residue cover from the previous crop or cover crops could be used to help reduce soil water evaporation,” he advises. “Much of our Iowa soils can hold approximately two inches of water per foot of soil if full recharge had occurred.” That means that, as long as rooting depth isn't restricted,  plants won't experience drought stress for several weeks, keeping them safe until after vegetative growth. 

Still, growers need to remain watchful in the coming weeks if they want to protect vulnerable fields. Without rainfall, some acres could be under drought stress during key growth stages such as tasseling and setting pods. That could lead to negative effects on yield, which will only suffer more if heat stress also accompanies drought conditions. 

What can farmers do?  “There are minimal in-season management changes that can be utilized to help with drought conditions,” Licht says. “Some things that can help minimize drought stress is to keep weeds from competing for available water but being careful to avoid pesticide (herbicide, insecticide and fungicide) applications during key developmental growth stages.”

Of course, irrigation systems provide more flexibility and allow farmers to give plants water at the time they need it, but irrigation is not as common in Iowa, so farmers will also want to keep an eye on their rain gauge.

If drought does occur, it certainly could affect production and drive up crop prices--but probably not just yet. “It’s a little early to get too excited about it,”  says Brad Matthews of Roach Ag Marketing. “Keep it in the back of your mind to be leery if you’re going to be an aggressive forward seller.”