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Published September 03, 2011, 02:25 AM

Heat, drought lower some predictions for Iowa corn

DES MOINES, Iowa — A hot July and a relatively dry summer have left about a third of Iowa parched and lowered expectations for the state's corn crop.

DES MOINES, Iowa — A hot July and a relatively dry summer have left about a third of Iowa parched and lowered expectations for the state's corn crop.

While some rain fell on Tuesday and again Friday morning in parts of Iowa, it's not enough.

The National Drought Monitor map this week showed a yellow swath of abnormally dry conditions in northwest Iowa giving way to moderate drought in central Iowa and culminating in severe drought in 11 counties in southeast Iowa, The Des Moines Register ( reported Friday.

Conditions in Iowa are not nearly as bad as in Texas and Oklahoma, which has caused entire pastures and timberland to burst into flame.

But Iowa's drought and heat is damaging the corn crop. Hot weather during pollination reduced the size of ears and the number of kernels.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said in early August that Iowa would average 177 bushels per acre, down from 182 bushels in 2009 but an improvement over the flood-soaked 165 bushels per acre last year. The continued dryness has prompted private forecasters to drop the projection for Iowa's yields to as low as 164 bushels per acre, the number the Professional Farmers of America tour posted late last week.

Parts of Iowa got a good soaking last week, but farmers said it didn't help the corn crop.

"We got three-quarters of an inch of rain, which will help the soybeans, but it's too late for the corn," said John Heisdorffer, who farms west of Washington in what has been one of the driest areas of the state.

Heisdorffer said the cornfields in his area have shown the characteristic yellowing and drooping leaves associated with excess heat and lack of moisture.

"In a good year we expect to get 180 to 200 bushels per acre," Heisdorffer said. "We won't be close to that this year."

The situation is the same in western Iowa.

Brian Larson, whose Sunderman Farm Management of Fort Dodge manages farms in and around Webster County, pegged average yields at around 150 to 160 bushels per acre, well below the 200 bushels per acre Iowa can produce in a robust year.

"Six weeks ago this was looking like a really fine crop," Larson said. "Now it will be only average, if that."

The dry weather also is wilting flowers and turning lawns yellow.

"We had an inch or so on Tuesday in the Des Moines area, and we needed it, but we need another inch or so of a good soaking rain to make the lawns green up," said Iowa State University Extension horticulturist Richard Jauron.

He did say it isn't necessary to run up a huge watering bill because grass can go dormant for several weeks and then come back.

"A yellow lawn doesn't mean a dead lawn," he said.

In Iowa, the hottest July since 1955 was followed by an August with total rainfall of 3.02 inches, below the average August rainfall of 4.18 inches. Rainfall for July was also below the average.

June was wetter than normal, with 6.27 inches, 1.6 inches more than average.

Before Tuesday, the last rain in central Iowa that totaled more than two-thirds of an inch happened on June 25, said state climatologist Harry Hillaker.

Those two months of dry weather follow four years of what have been above-average rainfall years for Iowa.

The National Weather Service forecasts a chance of thunderstorms, with rainfalls totaling no more than a quarter-inch, through Saturday with clear weather through Labor Day.