WATERLOO — Craig Sage usually gets done harvesting his 525 acres of corn and soybeans around the first of November. Not this year.
“This year, I’m hoping to start by November,” Sage said.
Even that is optimistic, he said. Too much rain without time for it to dry out — 25 inches of it on his Waterloo farm since August — means it’s difficult to even drive around his fields, let alone combine.
“It’s literally been too wet to go tromping out in the fields,” he said.
Sage isn’t alone: Iowa farmers had just 1.6 days on average to get into the fields last week, according to the latest Iowa Crop Progress and Condition report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
It’s even worse in Northeast Iowa, where those harvesting corn and soybeans had just half a day suitable for field work for the week ending Oct. 7. And Waterloo farmers in particular are bearing the brunt of the rainfall.
Waterloo set an all-time rain record in September, is less than a half-inch shy of the rainfall record for October just 10 days in, and already has the wettest fall on record for the period of Sept. 1 through Nov. 30, with 18.65 inches, according to meteorologist Brad Small with the National Weather Service.
That breaks a record set in 1961, Small said. “That record amount is 15.24 inches above normal for the fall. Anytime you’re talking feet above normal, that’s really significant.”
Farmers don’t mind that kind of rain in the spring and summer, when warm, sunny days dry out the fields, Sage said. It’s a different tune when the temperature cools off.
“The season is working against us because it’s slowly getting cooler and cooler — it’s not going to dry as good as 85 (degrees) with sun,” Sage said.
The soybean harvest is already five days behind the average for this year, at just 18 percent of the crop harvested statewide and just 10 percent in Northeast Iowa. The corn harvest remains ahead of schedule by 10 days statewide, with 15 percent of the crop harvested — though just 8 percent of corn in Northeast Iowa had been harvested as of Sunday.
As long as Sage and others can get their crop out by the first part of December, crop insurance can usually pick up the difference in yield loss. But if the trend of above-average precipitation coupled with below-average temperatures continues and Sage has to leave crops in the fields until April, he’ll have to eat the cost of lower yields.
“Some guys say they’ve done that before. Generally, it can stand pretty good. I don’t want to find out,” Sage said.
But there’s some good news, according to Small: The next seven to 10 days won’t have any “appreciable rainfall,” and the eight to 14-day outlook also is forecast for below-normal precipitation.
Sage said he’s ready to go when Mother Nature allows.
“If we can start to get some windows, if we do get some drying weather,” Sage said. “You just have to make allowances for a year like this.”