‘We need to adapt’: Pumpkin farmer turns to cover crops in response to weather drought, heavy rain

The state climatologist says the Earth’s warming is changing weather patterns
The state is experiencing a drought, with heavy precipitation when it does rain. That heavy downpour on top of dry dirt can impact soil surrounding their crops.
Published: Aug. 3, 2023 at 5:25 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - “We need to adapt with our changing environment around us, be aware of it,” Dean Colony, the owner of Colony Acres, said. “We’re getting least frequent rains, but heavy rains.”

Some Eastern Iowa farmers are having to adapt to a growing number of “sporadic rains” similar to what we saw on Friday, July 28.

Parts of the state are experiencing a drought — and commonly see heavy precipitation when it does rain. That heavy downpour on top of dry dirt can impact soil surrounding their crops.

Colony has turned to using cover cropping in a unique way to adapt to extreme weather.

“This is our first year doing cover crops,” Colony said. “We’ve planted pumpkins for about 17, 18 years now, but with climate changing the way it has and with torrential downpours or dry periods, the cover crop really helps to hold the soil in the ground.”

Last fall, he grew ryegrass and then matted it down for the pumpkins to grow through.

It’s his answer to Iowa’s dry conditions, but he says this won’t fix everything.

“With the drought and everything it probably put these pumpkin plants back about a month or so,” Colony said. “With this last rain, they’ve probably tripled in size.”

He says Friday’s storms were the type of situation his cover crops are for.

“I think we got about three-quarters of an inch of rain that day, which is fantastic,” Colony said. “[I] came out here the very next day. Absolutely no problems whatsoever. I could walk around this field and my feet were clean, no mud whatsoever.”

State climatologist Justin Glisan says Iowa is seeing heavier, more sporadic rain as the state experiences its third year of drought.

“Where this is setting us up is our extremes are becoming more extreme,” Glisan said. “Wetter wets, dryer dries, but also they’re co-mingling amongst each other for a more persistent time period.”

He says a warming Earth is driving this change.

“When you have a temperature increase in the atmosphere, you’re able to hold more water vapor in the atmosphere,” Glisan said.

Glisan says the number of farmers using cover cropping has increased significantly over the past decade. He says Iowa is approaching 3 million acres of cover crops.

Both Glisan and Colony say these changes are about protecting the soil and the land for future generations.

“It’ll be a challenging year as every year seems to be, but farmers are pretty resilient,” Colony said.