Rain Makes Mud, And That Is Good

Rain Makes Mud, And That Is Good

Iowa farmers are itching to plant and the state got much-needed rain this week, but you don't hear anyone complaining.

The drought has been steadily lifting, and even in the northern and western Corn Belt, farmers are finally getting what they've needed -- some rain. It's at least a start at recharging subsoil moisture supplies in the driest areas. The rains are nine months too late for last year's crop, but with 2013 planting just around the corner, rain that fell on Iowa and western Corn Belt states this week was indeed welcome.

READY TO PLANT: This week's rain was the most in a single week since June 2011 and is lessening the drought across Iowa. Drought has eased its grip in central and eastern Iowa, as rains soak in and replenish subsoil moisture. The U.S. Drought Monitor website shows drought has eased in central Iowa and is gone away in much of the state's eastern third, but is hanging on in Iowa's northwest corner. Soil temperatures have been too cold to plant. They should be 50 degrees F or more at 4-inch depth, with a warm weather trend in the forecast, say ISU agronomists.

Of course, one good rain doesn't break a drought and while snow and heavy rains that recently swept across the Midwest during the first half of April are contributing much-needed moisture, cold and wet soil conditions have kept farmers out of fields while the rest of the world anxiously watches.

A farmer in Keokuk County in southeast Iowa planted 200 acres of corn the weekend of April 6-7. That's the most corn Wallaces Farmer has heard of that's been planted yet this spring in Iowa. Why plant so early? The ground was working well and soil temperature was at 50 degrees. He was itching to get some corn in the ground and hoping warm weather would continue. But that's not the way the weather turned out this past week. It got cold and wet.

Next week's drought monitor report may not show any "extreme drought" in Iowa
The amount of rain that fell from last Sunday (April 7) into Thursday morning (4 days) in Iowa was more than any of the weekly (7 day) totals going back to June 2011. The statewide average was 2.6 inches this week for April 7 to 11. "And some areas of Iowa had significantly more," says Harry Hillaker, state climatologist at the Iowa Department of Agriculture. Dubuque had 4.6 inches. Out of 500 weather stations in Iowa, only Glenwood had less than an inch of rain.


It is important to know what your options and choices are after the drought, and to have the best approach for your farm going into 2013. Download our free report Five Post-Drought Strategies For A Better 2013.


"That's a lot of rain Iowa has received in a few days this week and it came after the ground thawed, allowing water to soak in," notes Hillaker. Next week's drought monitor report will look a lot different. It may not have any "extreme drought" listed. River levels in Iowa have risen considerably, but wells will recover more slowly, he adds. And soil temperatures are still too cold for planting.


The U.S. Drought Monitor's weekly report is issued each Thursday, and the report issued April 11 reflected rain that fell through Tuesday, April 9. The report is compiled by the University of Nebraska, USDA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It's available at www.droughtmonitor.unl.edu/.

How important is soil temperature for determining when to plant corn?
Agronomists say don't plant corn until soil temperature is 50 degrees F at 4-inch depth. How important is that number when you look at the calendar and see it is April 12?

"That's kind of a magic number, 50 degrees, for planting corn," observes Jim Fawcett, an Iowa State University Extension field agronomist in eastern Iowa. "That's when corn will germinate -- a soil temperature of 50 degrees or warmer. The reason for not planting before then is the seed will take up water with soil temperatures cooler than 50 degrees. The seed will swell, but doesn't germinate. That's not a good combination because the seed will tend to rot if it's just sitting there swelling and not germinating. The seed imbibes the water but doesn't germinate because it's too cold."

Fawcett adds, "Particularly during April, I would definitely be paying attention to soil temperature before I decide to plant corn."

Water was flowing out of farm drainage tiles in eastern Iowa earlier this week
During the week of April 7 Iowa received that needed rain, although in some areas the rain came too much, too fast. Are there any concerns that the soil isn't going to be ready to go, ready for planting, when the temperature and the calendar finally say "it's time to go to the field?" Fawcett and other ISU Extension field agronomists from various areas of the state don't think we'll be seeing many planters going in the fields next week -- the week beginning April 14. "Our fields are pretty wet now here in eastern Iowa, and we actually do have some excess moisture in places," says Fawcett. "But I don't hear farmers complaining after going through the historic drought of last year."

Keep in mind that it's still early yet to be planting corn. It's easy to think that Iowa is running late on planting when you compare this spring to what happened last year when it was so warm in April. The ideal corn planting window is April 20 to May 5 in Iowa. "So we still have time -- today is April 12," says Fawcett. "A lot of farmers now a days have big planters and enough help so they can get their corn acreage planted in three to five days. If you can do that, there's no sense in trying to push it and get everything planted on April 20. We have plenty of time yet to get this year's corn in the ground."


It is important to know what your options and choices are after the drought, and to have the best approach for your farm going into 2013. Download our free report Five Post-Drought Strategies For A Better 2013.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.