Skip Navigation

3/1/2010 - 3/7/2010

Spring Thaw Warrants Proper Precautions for Producers

By Kris Kohl, ISU Extension agricultural engineer

Record snowfall this winter and predicted warm weather and rain in the coming weeks have set the stage for rapid melting and potential local and regional flooding.

“Farmers need to consider the flooding possibilities and act now while the snow is still solid, allowing tractors and equipment to work,” said Kris Kohl, Iowa State University agricultural engineer.  “With snow drifts and piles in new places, they may act as temporary dams and prevent runoff water from exiting through normal waterways and ditches. For farmsteads within the 100-year flood plain, consider moving forages and grain to higher ground or selling it.”

Kohl offers additional advice for farmers facing potential flooding, including farmstead, feedlot, grain bin and silage pile precautions.

Farmsteads and driveways
Snow has been piled everywhere, which will cause temporary local flooding until the natural waterways are opened up. Snow piles and drifts can cause the melted water to pond in new places and flood farmsteads. Kohl recommends planning ahead and taking these steps:
1. Be sure that a pathway through the snow to a good open outlet exists before the water turns all of the soil to mud.
2. Make sure snow piles and drifts are directing water away from your farmstead and buildings.
3. Use a sump pump or transfer pump to redirect water away from critical areas during the warm days
   and take it inside before night when they will freeze and break.

Grain bins
Check on all grain bins now to be sure the grain is in good condition. There are reports of snow blowing into bins and many bin sites have not been visited for months because the snow is too high to get down the driveways. Snowdrifts around many bin sites will cause local flooding that may soak the bottom of the grain, causing the bin to rupture. Therefore, be sure that the water has a way to exit the bin site without obstruction and that snow piles and drifts are not redirecting water towards the bins.

Forage bales and silage piles
If bales are in a 100-year flood plain, move them to higher ground. Move snow away from the bales and silage piles to provide an escape path for the melting snow so that it will not soak the feed.

A lot of snow has been pushed into piles within our feedlots. Before the lot turns to mud, remove as much snow and manure as possible. Move it to a location that will not run off into surface water. Using a box scraper in the mornings on the feedlot will smooth the surface and remove manure before the top six inches melts. If there is no available location outside the lot to stockpile the scrapings, an effort should be made to pile them in low areas away from the solids settling structures. Here they can melt slowly and not plug settling structures. If the feedlot is subject to flooding, develop a contingency plan for removing the livestock and monitor the situation closely.


Kris Kohl is an  Iowa State University Extension  agricultural engineer serving northwestern Iowa. He can be contacted at (712) 732-5056 or

Projected Demand for Iowa Crops

By Chad Hart, Department of Economics

Demand for Iowa crops has been helped by outside influences, especially the recovery in energy prices. Ethanol margins have moved above breakeven and support for biofuels has been boosted by the substantial rise in crude oil prices over the past year.

The energy price recovery has helped ethanol margins remain positive over the past several months. Biofuels continue to see support from higher energy prices.

The turnaround has allowed U.S. ethanol production to continue growing. Ethanol now ranks second only to livestock feed in demand for corn.

Projections for the 2009 crop show more than 4 billion bushels of corn heading to ethanol plants. Looking beyond to the 2010 and 2011 crop years, ethanol demand will continue to build with the Renewable Fuels Standard.

In 2010, that standard requires production of 12.95 billion gallons of renewable fuels, up from 11.1 billion gallons in 2009. Corn-based ethanol will account for much of the conventional biofuel portion of the standard, increasing corn demand for ethanol to 4.4 billion bushels in 2010 and 4.6 billion bushels in 2011. Based on the standard, by 2015, over 5 billion bushels of corn could be used for ethanol production.

Corn feed and residual demand is another projected increase over last year. Feed demand, however, has declined with the financial woes facing the livestock industry.

Livestock projections
Poultry, dairy, pork and beef producers have been reducing numbers. From higher feed costs, lowered demand with the recession and the H1N1 outbreak, the livestock industry has encountered wave after wave of troubling news.

But futures prices for livestock and feed products at the close of 2009 suggest reason to hope for a rebound in the livestock industry moving through the summer.

One sign of coming improvements is the projection for increased meat export demand with the drop in value of the U.S. dollar. For corn, livestock feed remains the largest demand category.  But it is also the demand category with the weakest outlook. If the improved margins fail to materialize, feed demand will slip further.

Corn export demand is expected to rebound as well, also supported by the continued weakness in the U.S. dollar as well as recent approvals of GM corn varieties in Mexico and the European Union.

For soybeans, exports are “the big story." The strength of export demand has led the U.S. Department of Agriculture to increase its soybean export estimate several times. By example, China has already purchased more soybeans from the U.S. than Iowans produced in 2009.

But Brazil and Argentina have shifted more area to soybean production, which will mean competition for U.S. growers. A potential for a record-setting South American soybean crop has contributed to futures prices favoring corn for 2010. But crop input costs have come down from last year’s highs, improving the economic outlook for both crops.

Estimates from ISU Extension show per-bushel costs of roughly $3.50 for corn and $8.67 for soybeans. Based on projected prices and costs, corn also holds a return advantage going into 2010.

So corn will likely gain acreage from soybeans and other crops in 2010. But the land shifts will not be dramatic. Given the situation today, I expect corn plantings to be around 90 million acres, with soybean area falling to 77 million acres. As in previous years, other crops will lose area to corn and soybeans.


Chad Hart is the Iowa State University grain marketing economist. He can be reached at (515) 294-9911 or

This article was published originally on 3/8/2010 The information contained within the article may or may not be up to date depending on when you are accessing the information.

Links to this material are strongly encouraged. This article may be republished without further permission if it is published as written and includes credit to the author, Integrated Crop Management News and Iowa State University Extension. Prior permission from the author is required if this article is republished in any other manner.