Scattered showers in the Le Mars area during the weekend raised hopes for an end to the prolonged dry weather in Plymouth County.
However, up to 0.6 of an inch of rain Sunday night in Le Mars will be followed by at least two more days of abnormally high temperatures baking already parched crops.
The National Weather Service in Sioux Falls, S.D. has issued a heat advisory for both today (Monday) and Tuesday.
Salvage a crop
The prolonged dry weather and abnormally high temperatures in Plymouth County are being watched closely by the county's livestock producers such as Wayne Beitelspacher, of Le Mars.
Beitelspacher says the concern right now is what to do with their 2012 corn crop.
The corn is completely gone in some parts of the county, Beitelspacher said.
"As a cattle producer, we want to try to salvage as much as we can so right now the concern is how much nitrates are in the corn stocks to be cut for silage," he explained.
The amount of nitrates will determine how the corn can be used by cattle producers.
Crops in the Akron, Craig, Struble and Westfield areas show the greatest impact of dry conditions, he said.
"North and west of Le Mars it's really bad," Beitelspacher said. "As you get towards Kingsley, they've got a lot more rain than we did and it looks a lot better out there."
The grain and livestock producer said rain is needed immediately and up to 2 inches a week for the next four to five weeks would be welcomed.
"That would really save our soybeans; a lot of this corn is shot, but the beans are hanging on and we can possibly get a pretty good bean crop if we get rain quickly in the next couple of days," Beitelspacher said.
Without the rain, the soybean crop is in trouble because the plants are suffering now, he added.
Beef producer Brad Banks is considering another option for his corn crop.
Banks may graze cattle in drought-damaged cornfields in his operation 14 miles west of Merrill.
"It's the driest I've ever seen," Banks said. "We've only gotten two-tenths of an inch of rain since May 28 and the corn crop was gone the middle of June already."
To help the 200 cattle in the feedlot deal with the heat, Banks said sprinklers are being used on the livestock every day.
"It takes a lot of water and, of course, the farm ponds are gone but the creeks are still running," he said
Banks' operation uses a solar-powered unit to pump water out of creeks for the cattle.
Craig farmer Adam Schmidt said beef cattle are not gaining weight in the high heat.
"The cattle are just trying to stay alive instead of putting on the weight they should," Schmidt said.
Pork producer educates
Bill Tentinger is president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA) which is a grassroots organization with approximately 3,000 members.
Tentinger said he is concerned about the impact of dry conditions on feed prices due to rapid increases in commodity prices after early predictions for a record corn crop.
"With that in mind, most U.S. producers opted to stay open in the market for their feed needs until the new crop arrived with the expectation of more reasonably-priced grain by harvest time," he said.
When the June crop report was issued by the United States Department of Agriculture, it reflected drought losses and a lower corn yield which "sent commodities on a fast run up," Tentinger said.
"The producers I am most concerned about are the independent producers that wanted a career in agriculture so they started raising hogs and have reinvested into their operations and grown them -- some of them are quite large," Tentinger said.
Those producers buy grain and turn it into pork and they are the backbone of the pork industry, he explained.
The independent pork producers now find themselves between a rock and a hard place, the Le Mars pork producer said.
"The cost of feeding their herd far outweighs any potential profit for some time to come," Tentinger said.
Farmers who do not have livestock are impacted differently, Tentinger said.
He has both a swine operation and crops.
"If I lose any or all of my crop, the outcome will be far different -- crop insurance will go a long way to pay the bills," Tentinger said. "Pork producers, and most livestock producers for that matter, have no place to go but back to the bank."
He said with the period of losses due to high costs of production such as feed, his biggest fear is losing more younger, independent producers.
Tentinger and other state farm leaders were at a drought information meeting with Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad last week.
Educating state and federal leaders about the seriousness of drought concerns is a focus for the IPPA president.
"I think our conversation with the governor last week opened his eyes to the problems in the livestock sector in iowa," he said. "We will continue to pursue that effort wherever we can."
The impact on businesses and communities beyond the farm is a concern voiced by both pork and beef producers.
Long term there won't be an expansion in the swine herd which, in time, will create a shortage of pork in the world market, Tentinger said.
"With exports at all-time highs, the foreign consumer will push up the price of pork in the retail sector in the U.S.," he said.
Beef producers like Beitelspacher have seen tis before. He experienced drought condition in 1976 and 1988.
He said it's the year following the drought that has the greatest impact.
"All of a sudden you're doubling your input (costs) before you get a crop back," he explained. "It's going to impact small town USA -- no doubt about it."
Tomorrow, the third in a series of Daily Sentinel reports on drought will focus on the impact of abnormally dry conditions on lawns and gardens.