OTTUMWA — Oktoberfest week did something most Ottumwa residents would probably have thought impossible: Enough rain fell to put the area well on the way to a decent month, and it came without raining out any major events.
A strong cold front moved through the area Thursday and Friday, bringing rain to this area and severe weather to western Iowa. Combined, the two days officially brought 1.34 inches of rain. That's a fair amount for a two-day period and more than in either of the previous two months. It was the highest 48-hour rainfall measured in Ottumwa since May 28-29 — and that event saw more than two inches fall.
Sunday added another 0.13 inches to the October total. And the day's high of 50 was well below the average of 67.
There's a catch, though, when anyone tries to measure the impact the rain had. That data is collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service, or NASS, and it's crippled by the government's shutdown. The weekly report due Monday, which would include last week's rainfall and crop conditions, wasn't produced.
There's a limit to what the state can do to mitigate that impact. Dustin VandeHoef, spokesman for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, said federal contractors gather the data on soil and crop conditions. The state contributes, but only in terms of climatology.
State Climatologist Harry Hillaker said the crop conditions probably won't change much with rain at this time of year. “It's really, unfortunately, too late,” he said.
Corn and soybeans are far enough along that major changes just don't have time to have significant impacts. But there are areas in which it would be welcome. Iowa doesn't grow much winter wheat, but there has been an increasing push in recent years for cover crops. Hillaker said the rains could have a real benefit there, as well as with pastures.
“That's still actively growing,” he said. “Or, at least, it has the potential to.”
That shutdown's impact goes beyond just tracking weather conditions. Farmers depend on the reports to help track the crop markets and make long-term decisions about how and when to lock in prices. And the reports can tell farmers about overseas markets, an increasingly vital part of American agriculture.
There are other hurdles as well. The USDA won't provide reports from livestock auctions in Oklahoma that are important for setting prices on Chicago's Mercantile Exchange. Need a government signature because you have a Farm Service Agency loan? You're out of luck there, too. The FSA officials you need to sign aren't working.
Consumers aren't seeing much of an impact yet, but that could change if the situation isn't resolved in time to get a new farm bill through Congress. The current one expired as the shutdown arrived. If nothing has taken its place by the end of the year, consumers could see the price of dairy products rise sharply.
——This article includes information from the Associated Press.