The Drought of 2018
Appanoose County, Iowa
Appanoose County is historically one of Iowa’s driest counties. While most of the State faced flooding in the summer of 2018, towns like Centerville struggled to feed their cattle. One of the most damaging droughts hit the area, with less than 11 inches of rain in parts of the county. The U.S. Drought Monitor had identified Appanoose County as an area of extreme drought for the entire summer.
For farmers like Dan Furlin, droughts are becoming the new normal. “Right here is where the water should be right now. It hasn’t been here in two years,” the farmer said regarding a pond on his property that had all but dried up.
The county wasn’t always like this. Noted in the early history of the county are incidences of severe flooding in the 1850s, but by the 1930s the narrative had changed, dominated by accounts of unforgiving droughts. Amos Siglin reflected on the drought of 1934 stating, “corn only made 10 to 15 bushels per acre,” a minuscule amount by current standards. Drought struck Appanoose again in 1936. By the end of the 1930’s Siglin had nearly $10,000 in debt from multiple years of low rainfall. A break in the prolonged arid climate allowed the farmer to pay off his debts, but the county would face drought again.
Furlin’s experience in 2018 is startlingly similar to that of Siglin. In August 2018, the area received some rainfall, enough to help ease the drought. Good news for the livestock who survive off of grazing, but too late to save most of the area’s corn and soybeans. “Crop-wise, the corn is done. This will not help the corn,” Furlin said. “The corn had pretty much died… at the end of July.”
The average farmer in the U.S. harvests 177 bushels per acre, but Furlin estimated he’d get around 50 bushels. The low production threatened both the current year’s bottom line and his ability to farm in the coming seasons. The fear of drought is always imminent in Appanoose County. Furlin stated, “You just hope for a better year. You get through this one and hope for next year.”
Sources: on-line: Max Diekneite, “Farmers in Southern Iowa Experience Worst Drought in 30 Years,” KCCI News, Des Moines, July 2018; Max Diekneite, “Iowa farmers see relief from drought, but it’s too late,” KCCI News, Des Moines, September 2018; “2017 Crop Production,” Iowa Ag News, January 2018; “Iowa,” United States Drought Monitor, September 2018; image: NOAA; SHSI: The People of Appanoose County, “History of Appanoose County,” 1986; “The History of Appanoose County,” 1878.