Storm and drought impacts on Iowa corn seen in crop tour

Iowa’s accumulated precipitation as a percentage of mean (1981-2010) for the period July 20 to Aug. 18, 2020. (Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship map)

Chicago | Reuters — A clearer picture of damage to crops in the path of last week’s derecho storm emerged on Wednesday, as crop scouts on an annual tour scrambled across blown-over corn stalks and wind-battered soybean fields in Illinois and Iowa.

Iowa officials on Tuesday warned much of the crop in the path of the Aug. 10 storm would not be harvested. Some 14 million acres, or 57 per cent of Iowa’s area planted, were impacted.

Iowa corn is key for both commodity markets and global food supply chains. A big loss in the top growing state could eat into a record-large national corn forecast at a time when China is buying more of the grain.

About 52 per cent of all the corn produced in Iowa was growing on farmland affected by the derecho, according to a Gro Intelligence analysis of satellite, environmental, and government data.

In an unlikely, but worst-case, scenario where none of the corn is salvaged, it would mean the loss of about 1.38 billion bushels of corn, according to Gro, an agricultural data and AI company.

That would cut the U.S. Agriculture Department’s current forecast of U.S. farmers harvesting a record 15.278 billion bushels of corn this fall.

Furthermore, drought conditions are also stressing crops in Iowa this growing season, according to scouts surveying western and north-central Iowa on the Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour’s third day.

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor, prepared by a consortium of climatologists, showed nearly 80 per cent of Iowa was abnormally dry as of Aug. 11 and nearly 19 per cent was in a “severe drought.”

While parts of western Iowa showed robust corn and soybean crops, some scouts saw a drop in corn yield potentials in the west-central and central counties hit by both drought and high winds.

Corn yield potential averaged 162.4 bushels per acre at eight stops in west-central Iowa counties — below last year’s crop tour average in those areas of 192.71 bu./ac. and the three-year tour average of 186.28 bu./ac.

A second leg averaged corn yield potential at 167.7 bu./ac. in five stops in central Iowa — also below last year’s and the three-year averages.

“Some of this, you can harvest,” said Sherman Newlin, a crop scout and Illinois farmer. “Some of this, you won’t be able to.”

Exactly how much of Iowa’s corn crop is lost won’t be known until combines start to roll in next month, said agronomists. But corn yields in the affected areas would be down about 50 per cent from their pre-storm expectations, according to an estimate from Iowa State University Extension field specialist Virgil Schmitt.

“We have got everything from corn that is laying completely flat — that is basically a total loss — to corn that has not been affected at all, to everything in between,” Schmitt said.

— Reporting for Reuters by P.J. Huffstutter and Mark Weinraub in Chicago; additional reporting from Julie Ingwersen in Chicago.

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