Sustainability

Ground Work 2021: Heat and Drought Stressing Iowa Soybeans

It is still very dry in our area of Iowa in the U.S. Midwest. The crops still look ok right now, but they are on the verge of being in trouble. We got very little rain through July, and it has been hot, with temperatures approaching 37°C, or 100°F. This stress impacts everything on our farm.

Our soybeans are setting pods, but the question is how many of those pods will be aborted? Or how many of the pods will be dropped prematurely, without developing soybeans due to stress. We need moisture to make a crop. The crop still looks ok, but on the tops of hills, the soybeans are starting to show stress, turning gray and losing color. We are also starting to see some insect pressure in the soybeans, like the Japanese beetle in this photo, so we are keeping a close eye on them.

Our corn pollinated well, but under stress, the ears will start tipping back, meaning that kernels at the end of the cob stop forming and filling out. We have been applying fungicide on corn to protect plant health. We have found that we consistently can improve yields by applying a fungicide. We apply this fungicide ourselves with a sprayer that sits above the corn crop on narrow wheels. We have been treating more than 404 hectares, or 1,000 acres, of our corn. We have also been treating another 1,210 hectares, or 3,000 acres, of corn for other farmers in our area.

During the first couple weeks of August, we will decide if we should apply any fungicide to our soybeans. If we get enough moisture that the crop will likely survive and produce a reasonable yield, we will consider applying fungicide to support plant health. We haven’t seen a consistent yield improvement when treating soybeans with fungicide the way we have seen it in corn. But because the plants are under so much stress, a treatment may give them a better chance. In the past, we have treated soybean fields with hail damage, because they need help to handle additional stress. Like with many decisions this season, what we do will depend on the weather.

The heat has also been hard on our pigs. They now weigh between 110 and 125 kg, or 250 and 280 pounds. They will start going to market in mid-August. But this group has had health struggles that we have been helping them fight as they grow. The heat stress makes it harder for them to stay healthy.

Drought and heat stress also impacts my son Schyler’s Scottish Highland cattle. The pasture they graze in has dried up, so we have started feeding them hay already. We are concerned about having hay to feed them throughout the winter, and this is a serious problem for larger cattle herds north and west of us. One of his heifers was bred late, and her calf was born the last week of July. We have been watching it closely to be sure it stays healthy, because the heat and drought mean that flies are more aggressive, and the young calf is under more stress.

The U.S. Midwest gets average rainfall every year, but it is not evenly dispersed. This year, some areas have twice as much rain as then need, while other areas, like ours, are getting hardly any.

Yields will be interesting. Some will be in good shape, while others won’t be. The markets have no idea what will happen, and it shows. Prices are bouncing all over the place, but not really going anywhere. Only time will tell, since the combine is the only thing that really tells us what kind of crop we have in our fields.

The stress means that we have been busy doing what we can to care for our livestock and crops. This has been a challenging year, as we hover on the verge of disaster. We aren’t there yet, and we hope we won’t reach that point.

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Tim Bardole

Tim Bardole is a fifth-generation farmer from Rippey, Iowa. He farms with his father, Roy; his brother, Pete; and his son, Schyler. Together, they grow soybeans and corn and raise grower-to-finish hogs. He serves as a United Soybean Board director and is also on the Iowa Soybean Board. He’s interested in sustainability and ensuring product quality for customers. Tim and his wife Lori have three children: Cassandra, Schyler who is married to Lauren, and Gabe. They also have two young grandsons.