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  • Jordan D. Smith

Ionia County in Drought Conditions Despite Rainfall


Despite the recent wet weather, the whole of Ionia County remains drier than usual. Stats from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) show the entirety of Ionia County an part of all surrounding counties in severe drought. Most of the county has received between 50-75% of the usual rain expected in the past month.

Looking back earlier in the spring, May was the 6th driest on record in the 129 years for which records are available for the area. Zooming out though finds that the year to date is the 12th wettest on record. This seeming discrepancy is due to uneven distribution of precipitation since the beginning of the year and many large scale rain events. Despite more rain if it comes too fast it runs off and doesn't really have time to soak into the soil thus leading to drought.


These sorts of conditions can spell trouble for local farmers. Drought conditions are associated with reduced yields for many field crops. Local farmer Jeff Sandborn farms over 2000 acres west of Portland and certainly knows the effect of drought. He farms corn, soybeans, and wheat and his wife runs a beef finishing farm which relies on feed crops. Sandborn is member of the farm bureau board and serves as the District 4 director. That area encompasses Ionia, Kent, Ottawa, Allegan and Barry counties.


Sandborn says that the issues facing farmers in the Portland area this year started before the current drought with the mild winter. Beyond providing moisture from melting snow, a good winter freeze and thaw cycle loosens up the soil to prepare it for planting. Due to the mild winter, Sandborn says that it was much harder to soften and prepare the soil to create a good “seed bed.” From planting in late April to the beginning of July, Sandborn says the local area has not received any meaningful rain until this past week.


Without rain at that crucial time after planting many crops do not properly germinate. Corn is especially vulnerable according to Sandborn. Soybeans are a bit more forgiving of early dryness if that rain catches up later in the season. In terms of wheat he says that farmers in our local area are seeing yields 10-20 percent below normal from the wheat planted last fall.


While a drive down along any given farm field may not give the look of crops stunted by dry conditions, the proof as they say is in the pudding, or in this case the harvest. Drought stressed crops may survive but yield less grain than usually come fall. A big factor in that is the drought resistant strains of seed being planted nowadays by nearly all farmers. These strains have been breed or genetically engineered to withstand drier conditions.


Sandborn says that the local drought now is not to the point where consumers will see the difference on the grocery store shelves, but it may hurt farmers feeding livestock as most livestock feed is usually farmed or bought locally. If you want a good yardstick to know if conditions are hurting local farmers take a look at your hard says Sandborn, “if you see your lawn getting brown it's usually a sign that crops are stressed too.”


There may be relief on the way though for local farmers. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center calls for a slightly above usual rainfall in the coming month. At the same time they predict that drought conditions will persist for the remainder of the growing season. Time will tell how this late summer rain will impact the bottom line for farmers come harvest time.


PHOTO: NOAA


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