CHICAGO — Iowa, the biggest U.S. corn-producing state, is facing its most widespread drought since September 2013, state agriculture secretary Mike Naig said on Aug. 28, compounding problems for farmers after a damaging windstorm.
The drought threatens to lower crop yields and grain quality even more for farmers who are also struggling with ripple effects from the COVID-19 pandemic. The scope of the losses will be determined by whether the state remains painfully dry, according to crop experts.
Iowa corn is key for commodity markets and global food supply chains. A big loss in the state could trim U.S. production at a time when China is buying more of the grain.
"The challenge here, and what's unique, is that we're dealing with adverse weather conditions over such a wide area in the state of Iowa," Naig said.
The Aug. 10 derecho windstorm knocked corn plants on the ground, essentially stopping their development, while drought-hit crops are shutting down over time, said Charles Hurburgh, a grain quality expert at Iowa State University.
The U.S. Drought Monitor, prepared by a consortium of climatologists, said 96% of Iowa was abnormally dry as of Tuesday, up from 88% a week earlier. About 61% of the state is in a moderate to exceptional drought, up from 45% a week ago.
Hurburgh said drought can limit grain output and increase the risk for mold to hurt quality.
"This is the largest area of coverage of multiple problems that I've seen," he said on a webcast with Naig.
Crop losses from the derecho likely exceeded losses of storage space from grain bins damaged in the storm, Hurburgh said. That means Iowa will probably not suffer a net storage crunch during harvest, he said.
The derecho impacted some 14 million crop acres, or 57% of Iowa's area planted.
"We are starting to hear of some of those fields being declared a total loss and seeing farmers out destroying that crop," Naig said.