Governor Branstad, Ag Secretary Bill Northey and Homeland Security Administrator March Schouten (L-R) talk about drought conditions.

The state’s top agricultural official predicts the 2012 corn harvest will begin in August, far earlier than normal, due to the drought.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey says the corn harvest normally begins in mid-September.

“I do believe harvest will be early. We are seeing maturities move along a lot faster, in part because it was short of water, in part because it was short of heat,” Northey says. “We did get in the fields early this last spring, but we’re likely to see some harvesting start, I believe, in August.”

Although there’s a day left in the month, this is likely to be the fifth driest July since officials began keeping weather records 136 years ago.

Just 1.12 inches of rain has fallen, on average, in the state this month. That’s more than three inches below normal. This is also going to be the third hottest July in Iowa as well.

“The combination of those creates real, real stress on our crops out there, our corn and soybean crops as well as our pasture land, as well as water demand that you see in our urban and rural areas,” Northey says.

The state’s largest urban water system,  the Des Moines Water Works,  has asked customers to conserve and quit watering lawns. Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management director Mark Schouten has met with the directors of Iowa’s 19 rural water systems.

“Although those systems are being taxed and they’re producing record amounts of water, they continuing to meet demand,” Schouten says. “Some of them are looking to drill new wells. They’re looking forward, sensing their water levels are dropping, so they’re working with DNR to increase their ability to generate water.”

State officials are reviewing the rules and regulations for well-drilling, to see if there’s any way to speed up the permitting process.

Schouten and Northey spoke this morning at the governor’s weekly news conference. Governor Branstad last week lifted weight restrictions for hauling hay and the DOT started granting permits to farmers who want to mow ditches and bale the forage for their livestock.

AUDIO of governor’s weekly news conference, focused on drought issues