Drought conditions persist in Iowa

By Joseph L. Murphy

Iowa has seen its share of snow over the past 10 days. That snow has snarled traffic, stopped commerce and caused headaches across the state. One thing it hasn’t done according to weather experts is help with the drought.

The stream that flows under the Cedar Bridge near Winterset has been at a trickle for a majority of the summer. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

The stream that flows under the Cedar Bridge near Winterset has been at a trickle for a majority of the summer. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

Looking at precipitation amounts across the state and comparing it to the most recent USDA drought monitor, you can see a trend that confirms areas of the state are still in a dry pattern. One of the hardest hit areas according to precipitation data is Northwest Iowa.

“Although this winter’s precipitation has been near or even above normal across the southeast half of Iowa, conditions have remained below normal across the northwest half of the state. There are no significant indications that Iowa’s drought–especially across northwest portions of the state–will end in the coming spring months,” said Jeff Zogg, Senior Hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Des Moines.

Even though much of the state has received near normal snowfall this winter, a significant impact on the dryness is not expected due to the snowfall alone because of the snow’s relatively low water content. “To make a significant impact on the drought, we need several months of near to above normal rainfall beginning with this spring season,” Zogg added.

Mike VerSteeg, a farmer from Inwood is experiencing the drought in northwest Iowa first-hand. He has watched storms pass to the north and south of his farm with only small amounts of rain and snow falling in his area.

“We’re right on the edge,” VerSteeg said. “It makes a guy nervous going into this year with depleted subsoil moisture. We’ve had some snow and rain over the past month, but the problem is the ground is frozen, so it is all ending up in the creeks. I wish there was a way to keep some of it for spring.”

VerSteeg was happy with the performance of his crops considering the lack of rain last year. He recorded an average soybean harvest and slightly below average corn harvest. Looking forward, he plans on planting the same or slightly higher populations on his no-till and strip-till crop ground, while being hopeful that the moisture comes.

“If you plan for a drought, you’re going to get a drought,” VerSteeg said. “We’ll keep things the same and pray it rains.”

EPA tours Boone River Watershed

By Joseph L. Murphy

A combine unloads corn into a trailer near Webster City. Acting Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Water Nancy Stoner and others toured farms and conservation areas near Webster City recently. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

A combine unloads corn into a trailer near Webster City. Acting Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Water Nancy Stoner and others toured farms and conservation areas near Webster City recently. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) staff, members and partners hosted U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Washington, DC, staff on a Boone River Watershed tour, earlier this week. Acting Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Water Nancy Stoner and two colleagues arrived early for the 3-day Hypoxia Task Force meeting held in Ames, this week, in order to see what Iowa farmers and ag retailers are doing to improve Iowa’s soil and water quality.

Arlo and Claudia Van Diest, who farm near Webster City and participate in ISA’s Environmental Programs and Services (EPS), welcomed Stoner and her staff to their home, where they described their family farm—how and why they grew their operation, planning for the next generation, and how conservation is integral to their success.  The EPA visitors got to see the Van Diests’ strip till equipment and hear how Arlo became an innovator, sharing the benefits of conservation tillage with neighbors and helping disseminate the practice locally. Stoner rode in the combine to get a feel for harvesting corn, and Van Diest pointed out the mellowness of his soil and the winter rye cover crop emerging in the stubble.

ISA EPS Director Roger Wolf, who organized the tour, demonstrated management of one of Van Diest’s bioreactors, installed to remove nitrate from tile drainage water. Along with Van Diest’s description of his nitrogen management efficiency improvements, tillage reduction, and cover crops, the visitors got to see integrated solutions for nutrient reduction in an agricultural landscape.

Agriculture’s Clean Water Alliance (ACWA) President Harry Ahrenholtz and ISA EPS Operations Manager and Watershed Coordinator Todd Sutphin took the tour group to see water monitoring sites, funded primarily by ACWA and the Nature Conservancy, and described how EPA’s funding had been used to help advance implementation of solutions in Lyons Creek Watershed, within the Boone. Sutphin had worked with local leaders to write a watershed plan for Lyons Creek, leading to the IDNR-EPA grant, and wrote similar plans for other local watersheds, paving the way for significant USDA cost share funds to the area.

Originally published for the Iowa Soybean Association. Find more great stories at: www.iasoybeans.com/news

Iowa deer population at tragic numbers

One evening last month my parents set out from their home in Forest City to enjoy a motorcycle ride and a picnic in the park. My mother would have never imagined it would be the last time she enjoyed a smile and wave from my dad. The two enjoyed riding their Harley Davidson motorcycles around North Iowa and even across the country. As my dad turned onto the river road south of Forest City, a deer bolted from the ditch, striking him in the side and throwing him to the pavement as his bike slid off the road. My father was pronounced dead later that evening and he became another statistic in Iowa’s losing battle against the white tail deer. 

Sadly, my dad was not alone. Several days prior to his accident another North Iowa man was killed when his motorcycle collided with a deer near Lake Mills.

In the days following the accident I couldn’t help but think if my dad would have left home 30 seconds earlier or 30 seconds later he wouldn’t have been hit by that deer. I’m sure that 1.5 million other people in North America have shared those same thoughts. One and a half million people are estimated to be involved with deer/vehicle collisions annually in North America. That number along with 29,000 human injuries, $1 billion in insurance claims and tragically the loss of life is what makes the white tail deer the most dangerous mammal in North America ( http://www.reason.com/news/show/34914.html ).

The loss of a loved one is always difficult. But what has made it especially tough for me, is the fact that my dads death easily could have been avoided. If state officials would examine their policies on the size of the deer herd a herd that has been estimated to have tripled in the past decade there would be fewer accidents and fewer deaths. Allen Farris, then the head of the fish and wildlife division for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, testified to lawmakers in 1997 that he thought the deer herd should be between 80,000 and 90,000 in the state. Today the herd is estimated at 475,000.

According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources website deer do well in Iowa. But the question the state should ask is what good do the nearly 500,000 deer do for Iowa? Outside of revenue from the sale of hunting permits, the white tail deer is more of a scourge to the environment. An MSNBC article clearly shows that the white tail deer has destroyed farmland and changed the ecology of forests nationwide, as well as causing increasing property damage and fatalities like my father’s. ( http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6835501 )

It’s easy for Iowan’s say that it’s someone else’s problem. But that’s no longer true. While covering stories for the Spokesman I’ve come across farmers dealing with severe deer destruction. Two come to mind as I write this. Steve Duke, a farmer near Keosaqua, has had to repair his fences constantly and has seen crops trampled and consumed by a herd of 60 deer that he watches from his kitchen window nightly. Stan Mattes, a Taylor county farmer warned me to be careful as I left his home one night, because of deer. I smiled back and said I would take caution if I spotted one. He replied “it’s not if you see one” and sure enough as I drove Highway 2 at dusk I counted five deer along the road in a 15 mile stretch. It’s everyone’s problem in Iowa.

It’s time that citizens of our state join with organizations like the Iowa Farm Bureau; ABATE of Iowa and other groups to loudly say “enough is enough.” Even hunters see the need to reduce the deer population. The National Rifle Association has weighed in on the issue offering the expertise of their membership to help cull the deer herd across this country.

As a matter of public safety it is irresponsible to allow a U.S. deer population that was estimated at just 500,000 deer in the early 19 th century to grow to a staggering 30 million deer nationwide today. Some estimates in Iowa place the ratio of deer to humans at one to six. In my mind that ratio has a direct link to why my father was killed on one of Iowa’s roadways.

The Governor, Iowa legislature and the DNR should make it a top priority to cull the herd just for the simple fact of public safety alone. I urge people reading this blog to contact their elected officials, write to the Iowa DNR and talk with law enforcement personal about ways that we can get this problem under control.

 Originally published for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation on June 22, 2009