Iowa State University Extension agronomist Mark Licht holds up hail-damaged corn from the storm Wednesday night. The Crop and Livestock Management in Time of Drought meeting held by the Carroll County Extension had an overwhelming turnout of area farmers with about 120 in attendance.<span style="font-size: xx-small;"><em>&nbsp; Daily Times Herald photo by Randi Reeder</em></span>
Iowa State University Extension agronomist Mark Licht holds up hail-damaged corn from the storm Wednesday night. The Crop and Livestock Management in Time of Drought meeting held by the Carroll County Extension had an overwhelming turnout of area farmers with about 120 in attendance.  Daily Times Herald photo by Randi Reeder
Friday, July 27, 2012

Carroll’s farmers might harvest half the usual bushels of corn this year because of the summer drought, Iowa State University Extension officials told area farmers in a meeting about the drought Thursday night.

Counties get a “disaster area” label when yields drop by at least 30 percent, said Shane Ellis, an Extension farm management specialist.

The Carroll County Extension office held the meeting after farmers called with questions about how to combat the drought — especially in regard to livestock. Some farmers will feed their cattle their wilted cornstalks, but the plants must be tested to be sure they don’t have too many nitrates.

“This is the hand that we have been dealt,” agronomist Mark Licht told about 120 people who attended the Thursday meeting at Swan Lake State Park. “There’s nothing I can tell you that will save your crop at this point in time.

“The seasonal drought has us in a category where the drought will persist and intensify and continue to the 31st of October — so they are saying this isn’t going to get any better anytime soon.”

The U.S. Drought Monitor said this week that all of Iowa is in a severe or extreme drought.

Carroll on Wednesday had its first significant rains in more than two weeks, but the .39 inch of rain that fell in the area is expected to do little to boost the corn crop. Much of the state is several inches of rain short of normal, and near-triple-digit temperatures have scorched the land.

Most Iowa counties have banned outdoor burning of trash and other debris.

Licht said this year’s crop yields are projected to be 30 to 50 percent below a normal year. The stunted corn plants have produced fewer and smaller kernels.

“Grain storage will be a nightmare,” Licht said. “It’s not going to dry right. It’s not going to store well.”

Extension beef specialist Chris Clark discussed the safe way to feed cattle corn stalks: “For chopping, it’s all about the moisture content with ideal moisture being ... around 60 to 70 percent moisture or 30 to 40 percent dry matter.”

Before the meeting, Extension specialists tested area farmers’ corn for nitrates, which at high levels can poison cattle.  Because the corn’s development has been interrupted by the drought, nitrates from the soil build in the roots of the plant. Farmers run a lower level of risk if stalks are chopped a third of the way up.

Ellis discussed how to value and sell the current crop, costs of harvesting, insurance options and federal-relief options, which include putting the land into programs reserve it for hay and grazing only. He said 90 percent of Iowa crops are covered by crop insurance.

Ellis has talked to some area farmers who have already signed contracts and are worried about not being able to fill those contracts and may have to buy corn.

“You’re obligated to fill that contract,” Ellis said. “Crop insurance does help out with that.”