LEXINGTON — It may be harvest time before the full extent of flood damage to south-central Nebraska crops is known.
That’s why University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Educator Sarah Sivits’ most common answer to questions about flood effects on corn and soybeans is, “it depends.”
One thing the cropping systems specialist based in Dawson County knows for certain is plants don’t do well if they stand in water a long time.
“The longer corn sits submerged in water, the less likely it will survive,” Sivits said, adding that mortality also will be higher because warm air temperatures followed Monday’s flooding rains.
It may seem like hot, windy weather to dry saturated fields would be a good thing, but she said warmer standing water causes oxygen needed by plant roots to deplete faster.
“These plants essentially get fried,” Sivits said, adding that decreased root volume reduces a plant’s uptake of water and nutrients.
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Soil loss and nitrogen leaching also are flood-related problems, she added.
Damaged corn plants are more susceptible to diseases — crazy top, fungal and bacterial stalk rots, foliar fungal diseases — later in the growing season. Sivits advises farmers to scout for problems early and often.
The same is true for flood-stressed soybeans that are susceptible to later season pythium seed and root rot, and phytophthora root and stem rot.
Sivits said submerged soybeans can survive for 48-96 hours, depending on air temperature, humidity, soil moisture, cloud cover, and soil texture, drainage and drying time.
Plants in fields flooded four or five days may develop fewer nodes and be shorter. Other issues are stand and yield losses, she said, with greater losses expected if soybeans were at flowering stage.
Some flood problems are location specific. Sivits said that while driving Tuesday north of Odessa, she saw a place where water had gone over the road and pushed irrigation pipe into the cornfield, which bent over corn plants.
As farmers wait for water to recede from fields, Sivits said she is being asked, “What about the mud?”
She explained that mud on plants can reduce sunlight and photosynthesis, and cause nutrient deficiencies. Another cause for deficiencies is that most farmers’ fertilizer application schedules already were “derailed” by wet weather, Sivits said.
Access to fields, feedlots and pastures is a big challenge — again — for all ag producers.
Sivits said a Dawson County commissioner told her that most roads in the county that were damaged by March floods finally were repaired and reopened, “and now we’re back to where we were.”
Dawson County Extension Educator Bruce Treffer said wet conditions and mud make work difficult for cattle producers, especially feedlot operators, and will spoil some feed supplies.
“When you have that much rain the (waste) holding ponds are the biggest thing” for cattle feeders, Treffer said, adding that feedlot operators work with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality to manage that issue.
Feeding cattle is more difficult if the feed is stored at a different location, especially if the direct link between sites now is a washed-out road. Treffer said road conditions also can make it difficult for employees and others to get to the feedyard.
“There are all kinds of complications with that,” he said, but it is a plus that most feeding operations have big equipment to use during bad weather conditions.
Most cow-calf producers weren’t greatly affected by this week’s flooding rains, especially those in pastures with hills. Treffer said he’s heard that some cattle in lower areas were isolated temporarily.
He knows that some big round hay bales will be victims of spoilage. “You try to put bales on higher ground,” he said, “but I’ve seen some in 3 feet of water.”
The first cutting of alfalfa is done, but Treffer said the hay quality wasn’t great because of wet conditions since spring.
Another issue for ag producers is fatigue from the extra work and frustrations created by floods and other bad weather this year. Treffer hopes “everybody is thinking about themselves a bit” and taking advantage of available resources.
Treffer and Sivits said information on many topics, including food and wellwater safety, mental health, legal aid and insurance, can be found at flood.unl.edu.
“Everybody is pretty resilient, but it takes its toll,” Treffer said. “... It’s a depressing time because of the challenges, but the sun did come out and the water will go down.”