U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa City, visited Marion County on July 30, touring row crops and hay fields south of Knoxville that are stressing from the lack of rain and hot conditions.
An alfalfa field near Bussey looked more like a desert landscape with cracks more than an inch wide with sporadic patches of green mixed with predominately scorched grass.
Steve Kuiper, a farmer, said the [alfalfa] needs some rain.
“These guys are struggling,” Kuiper said while pointing to withered alfalfa plants.
The alfalfa field was mowed two weeks ago and has no sign of new growth except for an occasional limp alfalfa sprout.
The last alfalfa cut in the 20 acre field produced 50 round bales of hay. Normally the field produces about 65 bales. The third cut which is usually in late August could be worse if it does not rain, Kuiper said.
“The bad thing, if it doesn’t rain, the farmer could lose his whole seeding,” Kuiper said. “If we don’t get rain to get these plants healthy before it freezes up, it will freeze out.”
Kuiper farms 1,200 hundred acres. After looking at an alfalfa field, Kuiper walked over to a nearby corn field to show Loebsack stressed corn from the lack of rain.
“A stalk of corn will drain all the moisture out of the stalk to make an ear of corn,” Kuiper said. “Then, the concern turns to stalk health.”
With moisture being depleted from the corn stalks, the stalks become more vulnerable to windstorms, he added. What was most notable in the fields were the large cracks in the ground especially in the hay fields.
After touring stressed fields, Loebsack said he was glad he was able to come out to the area and see the conditions first hand.
“I learned a lot here today. We talked about a lot of issues, but certainly the weather is the big one with the drought,” Loebsack said. “For me, a lot of this points up to the importance of making sure we have the crop insurance program stay in place with the new farm bill. That really is the backstop that is the safety net for these farmers.”
Loebsack said this is what he hears the most from farmers.
“That is what I here all the time. For me to get it first hand and to see how important that would be was really critical for me,” Loebsack continued.
The farmers on the tour said they are hoping Loebsack takes what he has learned on the visit to see the importance of crop insurance.
“I hope he has an understanding of the importance of crop insurance when we have a situation like we have this season,” Kuiper said.
Mike Finarty also farms in Marion County. He rode along with Loebsack and Kuiper during the tour.
Finarty said he wants Loebsack to know that farmers do pay attention to politics.
“What [political figures] do, does directly affect us, from drought issues to chemical issues that we can spray in our fields, to uses of our crops, and even bigger than that, exports,” Finarty said. “All of the items [farmers] produce in Iowa are related to exports. Twenty-five percent or more of what farmers produce is exported from Iowa.”
Finarty said if farmers lose their exports, the nation loses as a whole. He also said the export issue directly affects the local economy and the U.S. economy.
Another topic of discussion Finarty wants Loebsack to pay attention to is crop insurance.
Finarty said crop insurance is important to farmers. Farmers do not know what the weather is going to do. It’s getting to be a worse cycle than before, he said.
According to Finarty, Marion County has seen more tornados and hailstorms in the past several years than the last few decades.
“My father said he has never seen hail on the farm. I have had hail damage to my crops two times in the last two years,” Finarty noted.
Iowa seems to be in a different weather pattern, something the county has not seen before, Finarty said. Farmers need back up and cannot do this by themselves.
“This is a huge risk for us to put money out on the farm. When things go wrong, they go wrong quickly and they are very expensive,” Finarty said. “It’s a big issue,” Finarty said. “I hope Loebsack takes what he has seen and learned today, and knows why we need things like crop insurance and chemicals for our fields.”
Ethan Goetz is a staff writer for the Knoxville Journal-Express and the Pella Chronicle.