Rain is helping farms, only time will tell if it's enough - KTIV News 4 Sioux City IA: News, Weather and Sports

Rain is helping farms, only time will tell if it's enough

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O'BRIEN COUNTY, Iowa (KTIV) - The rainy season may not be a fun time to enjoy the outdoors, but it's crucial for farmers to get their crop off to a good start.

One of Iowa State University's Field Agronomists, Joel DeJong, says they've got soil moisture down to a science.

DeJong says he travels to nine counties in Northwest Iowa every spring and fall to measure the moisture levels of the top five feet of soil.

That way, farmers can know where they stand.

"We do this every year just to monitor the moisture levels for the crop. The crop needs 22-25 inches of water a year, depending on how hot it is and some other factors, so that the water's not a limiting factor. And that's often the one thing that causes us the biggest yield loss in this part of the world," DeJong said.

And by this part of the world, he specifically means Northwest Iowa.

"Northwest Iowa averages less rainfall than the rest of the state. It's kind of South Dakota sneaking on to this part of the world. We don't get as much rainfall, and that's why we pay more attention to soil moisture than the rest of the state," De Jong said.

But he says it's a delicate balance, because too much rain can be a bad thing, too.

"Roots don't grow where there's no oxygen, either. So if you totally saturate that, what are plants going to do? They're going to drown, and they're going to die," DeJong said.

So how is Northwest Iowa doing?

DeJong says that most of the nine counties he's tested in the last week can sleep easy, knowing their crops have enough moisture so far this year.

"In the Northwest corner of Iowa, down into Monona County south of Sioux City, most of those counties are actually in pretty good shape," DeJong said.

However, western Plymouth County near Akron is at about half the moisture they should be for Spring, as well as Sibley. Melvin's soil test came up about two-thirds of normal, and Monona County near Castana is at only one-third the moisture they should have.

"Those neighborhoods need significant water to catch us up to normal, and will be at a little higher risk this summer of actually having adequate water for their crop," DeJong said.

But, DeJong did say that even in the areas that are still in need of some moisture after all this rain, that most ag people you find will still be optimistic at the start of the season, no matter what happens.

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