Gardeners and farmers across the state aren't only worrying about the effects of the scorching sun on their plants, they're also taking stock of the damage caused by hordes of iridescent insects that are chewing away produce and profits. The culprit: Japanese beetles. They're taking a bite out of Iowa gardens and farmers' fields.
According to Iowa State University Extension (www.extension.iastate.edu/article/yard-and-garden-japanese-beetles-0), the beetles feed on 300 different types of foliage and they are difficult to control. For gardeners with small plots, one of the best ways to combat the bug is to shake them off of the plants. ISU Horticulturalist Richard Jauron says the best time to physically remove Japanese beetles is early morning when the beetles are sluggish. Collect or shake beetles into a bucket of soapy water and discard the carnage. If that doesn't work, using an insecticide is the next step.
Japanese beetles infesting soybean fields in Iowa's driest areas this summer
For farmers with hundreds of acres of soybeans, the small insects represent an even bigger problem. Steve Swenka, a farmer near Tiffin in eastern Iowa, says the Japanese beetles are a result of the dry conditions. "If we had plentiful rains, those insects would be knocked down from the plants and washed away. Plus, it would encourage new plant growth to replace the damage caused by the beetles," says Swenka. "This season's dry weather has compounded that problem."
Dustin Sage farms near Dunkerton in northeast Iowa and says the beetles are showing up in his corn and soybean fields, too. He says farmers are carefully applying insecticide to their fields in an effort to curb the damage. Protecting the crops will keep the plants healthy.
ISU Extension entomologists say Japanese beetles are present for about six to eight weeks every summer. Adult beetles usually begin to emerge from the ground in mid-June and new adults continue to appear through July. Each beetle lives from 30 to 45 days. Farmers and gardeners alike are definitely counting down those days.
Livestock farmers focus on animal welfare during drought conditions, heat wave
Like many Iowa parents and homeowners, Ben Albright of Lytton set up the sprinkler on the Fourth of July. But it wasn't for the enjoyment of his young son or for the sake of his scorched grass, it was for the comfort of his cattle. As temperatures climbed into the triple digits (again), Albright spent most of his time making sure his herd had access to shade and water.
"Even on hot holidays, farmers are taking care of their livestock," notes Albright. "It's a 365-day, 24/7 type of job."
This summer's heat has caused near-drought conditions for much of Iowa; taking its toll on the crops and pastures. Livestock producers depend on both: grain for feed and pastures for grazing. Farmers are watching crop prices increase and seeing pastures dry up, so it takes extra effort to make the most of their water sources, pastures and buildings. According to the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship (www.iowaagriculture.gov/press/cropAndWeather.asp), only 1% of Iowa's pasture conditions are rated excellent, with 26% rated very poor. Farmers are concerned about providing enough forage for their livestock and protecting soil and environment, as well.
Forage and grazing management helps farmers provide better care for cattle
Randy Dreher, a cattle farmer near Audubon in western Iowa, carefully manages his herd's grazing systems, rotating the cattle among his pastures to allow the cattle to find sufficient forage and keep the areas growing and sustainable. "I've worked closely with my USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services office and their conservation technician, setting up a grazing system that provides many environmental benefits including increased water infiltration, reduced soil moisture evaporation and better manure distribution," says Dreher.
Each and every day, Dreher measures how much forage the cattle eat, how much his pastures can supply and is preparing himself to offer hay as a supplement. Because of his close attention to managing his natural resources, he says he's able to feed more cattle per acre than if he didn't use such a system.
Hog producers taking extra steps and precautions, keeping their animals cool
At Prairieburg in Linn County in eastern Iowa, Jason Russell is tending to his livestock, too, but he's dealing with a different species and using different farming methods. Russell raises hogs indoors, which means while the mercury climbs to the triple-digits outside, his animals have shade, water and food in comfortable surroundings. The barn is equipped with a 12-stage heating and cooling control system, sprinklers, fans and side curtains that can be raised and lowered.
"Raising hogs indoors is the right system for my family," says Russell. "It allows us to successfully manage our resources and keep a close eye on our animals. The building is cool and comfortable in the summer and warm and dry in the winter time. It's good for us and our animals' health."
Healthy animals mean healthy food. And that's good for everyone when they go to the store to buy their favorite summer meals, including burgers and brats.