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Soggy Soils Delay Midwest Fieldwork

Heavy rain throughout the U. S. Midwest agricultural belt last week caused some localized flooding as farmers begin their spring planting preparations, but few were worried about prolonged field work delays.

Farmers in the heart of the corn belt do not normally start planting before April and this year’s rains have not been as heavy as those seen late last spring which flooded thousands of acres of farmland and washed away freshly seeded crops.

“We’re just now getting to the point where people are trying to get out and start to get some of their initial field work done. There’s plenty of time and nobody is too anxious yet,” said Dennis Bowman, extension educator with University of Illinois Extension.

“You really want to go into the season with good soil moisture, although we weren’t really hurting for that this year,” he added.

Soils around the corn belt were saturated with moisture from melting snow even before a recent string of powerful storms passed through the area with several inches of rain.

Crop experts noted that the northern Midwest has received 150 to 350 per cent more rain than normal so far this March, but they added that last year’s water issues were worse.

“A year ago, there was a very heavy snowpack in the upper Midwest and that was all in the process of melting at this point in time. That is not the case this year,” said Mike Palmer ino, forecaster with DTN Meteorlogix.

“That being said, it is certainly not dry out there,” he added.

Soil moisture in Iowa, the top U. S. corn-and soybean-producing state, was rated 79 per cent adequate and 19 per cent surplus as of March 1, according the U. S. Agriculture Department.

In Illinois, the No. 2 corn and soy state, soil moisture was 80 per cent adequate and 20 per cent surplus at that point.

Crop experts stressed that the heaviest rains have come after March 1 so current ratings would show a larger percentage of surplus moisture.

Many of the areas that flooded heavily last year – several rivers in western Iowa and the Wabash River Valley in Indiana – have seen some degree of flooding this year, but the impact on farming is far less severe than in 2008.

“Last year, so much of the flooding came in late May and early June. It destroyed the crops that were already planted and further delayed anything that wasn’t yet planted,” said Robert Nielsen, extension agronomist at Purdue University in Indiana.

“We’re at least two months earlier with this current flood.”

Still, the wet pattern could cause headaches for farmers in coming weeks as they rush to fertilize soils and seed crops.

“There’s no reason to think that it is going to be a rapid planting season,” said meteorologist Palmerino. “There’s no reason to think that this wet pattern is just going to magically turn into some sort of a warm and dry situation.”

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