June sun may dispel spring chill for area crops

Tuesday, June 9, 2020
Lingering low temperatures have kept some corn sprouts short, despite many producers finishing their planting well ahead of last year thanks to dry conditions in early spring.
Photo by Seth Boyes

Relatively dry conditions early in the spring planting season helped producers in the region get to their work much earlier than previous years, but lower temps later in the season and some intermittent rainfalls cut in on the growing season.

"I suppose we've lost a little of our euphoria we had from the nice April, but there's still a lot of season to go yet," ISU Extension field agronomist Paul Kassel said.

Conditions were favorable in April and into early May, according to Kassel but, after about the first week of May, conditions became cool and wet. He said the unusually cool temperatures lingered this year, and the recent rainfall was a stark contrast to the conditions early on. The next thing farmers will likely focus on is herbicide for the corn crop, according to Kassel, but he said the cool weather kept corn from growing as much as it could have, which in turn may have lessened the urgency for herbicide — not mention cut into the advantages of planting early this year.

But, with the recent sunny weather, he said things could pick right back up.

The spring of 2020 is the first time in a decade farmers have had 75 percent of the corn crop in the ground by May 3, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's weekly Iowa Crop Progress and Condition Reports. The state's soybean crop is also setting records, according to the USDA. Farmers had planted 46 percent of Iowa's soybeans as of May 3, with a full third having been planted that week — the fastest since 1974.

This week, the USDA said virtually all of the state's corn planting was complete, and 99 percent of the crop had emerged in northwest Iowa. Statewide, corn producers are two weeks ahead of last year and 10 days ahead of the five-year average. Soybean planting was similarly underway with around 94 percent of northwest Iowa's soybeans already emerging — three weeks ahead of last year and 12 days ahead of the average.

Kassel said most producers in the region were able to catch up on applying fertilizer and herbicides thanks to the dry conditions early this spring, but he noted several areas in Dickinson County, such as the Lake Park area, saw standing water after some rainy days — a situation he said is shared by many north Iowa farmers.

"The last couple years, we had this kind of weather, and we didn't' have the good weather in April," Kassel said. "People were bummed out because they couldn't get in the field, and a lot of people didn't have much corn planted a year ago. This year, there's probably going to be some replanting, but we're not horribly late to have to replant."

Kassel went on to say the decision to replant can be more difficult if, for example, the need arises in late June. He said replanting before that point may help producers minimize their yield losses.

Market forces and biofuel relief

Going into the spring, Kassel estimated corn prices were down roughly a dollar since mid-January, largely due to decreased demand for ethanol-blended fuel during the COVID-19 crisis as well as oil price wars in the Middle East. The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association estimates 40 percent of U.S. corn is used in biofuel production, and the association was hopeful the HEROES Act — or Helping Emergency Responders Overcome Emergency Situations Act — introduced in the U. S. House might also help the industry.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley said last month he was not supportive of the HEROES Act. He said the bill was intended to address continuing needs stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, and Grassley said he feels too many of the items included in the bill are unrelated to combating the virus. However, Grassley and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar introduced a bill specifically aimed at assisting the biofuel industry. The bill would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reimburse biofuel producers for their feedstock purchases between Jan. 1 and March 31 this year. The payments would be funded through the Commodity Credit Corporation.

“Grassley’s bill would provide much-needed relief for biofuels producers in the face of COVID-19 demand destruction," Iowa Renewable Fuels Association Executive Director Monte Shaw said in May 19 statement. "The pandemic hit Iowa’s biofuels industry hard, and around 40 percent of the state’s ethanol production capacity remains offline. Without economic help, many plants may lack the necessary resources to purchase corn and resume production, even as more Americans head back to work and demand begins its long, slow climb back to normal levels."

A statement from Grassley's office said the proposed legislation was meant to be included in the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act — or CARES Act — as a match to stimulus for the oil industry, but both components of the bill were dropped before it was signed into law. The statement noted assistance for the oil industry has instead been achieved through administrative action.

“The biofuels industry works directly with our farmers, and the current disruptions from the pandemic have created ripple effects, including steep declines in corn and soybean prices," Grassley said. "We need to continue to support those farmers who feed and fuel our country and the world. This bill will help ensure biofuel producers survive this economic downturn and also ensure corn and soybean farmers have a place to sell their products."

Grassley and Klobuchar's bill was introduced in the Senate May 19 and referred to the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, according to online congressional records.

Similarly, the Iowa Biodiesel Board thanked some 44 members of the U.S. House for penning a bipartisan letter to President Trump, "urging him to uphold the Renewable Fuel Standard and deny the requests for a waiver from five oil state governors." The letter was signed by all of Iowa's U.S. Representatives save for District 4 Rep. Steve King, who recently lost his bid reelection. The biofuels board said a similar letter was sent to the president from the U.S. Senate — an effort the board credited to Grassley and Iowa's junior Sen. Joni Ernst.

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