Drought’s effect on corn not yet known

By on July 26, 2012

Photo: The corn in this field at route 38 and 47 in Elburn looks more like a pineapple crop. Photo by Kimberly Anderson

by Lynn Meredith
ELBURN—With this season’s lack of rainfall, lawns aren’t the only plant life that is being stressed. One look at the surrounding corn fields, and you will see stalks that are significantly shorter than usual and displaying spikey leaves that look like pineapple plants. But the effect of the drought on corn production itself is not yet known.

“The corn has no business looking as good as it does,” said Maple Park resident Warren Grever. “The corn is made in July. The big question with corn is how much is pollinated.”

Grever pulled out four ears of corn from his field and carefully pulled off the leaves. He then gently shook off the silk to see how much remained on the ear. He explained that each strand of corn silk corresponds to one kernel of corn.

“If the silks stick on the ear, then it’s not pollinated,” Grever said.

A couple of the ears were fully filled out, while the other two were undersized with gaps on the tips and in the middle. If the kernels are not pollinated fully and the ear doesn’t fill out, then yields will be low.

Normally, Grever says he will get 190-200 bushels of corn to the acre. A bushel is a measure of volume that equals 56 pounds of corn. He compares the normal yields to the ones he got in 1988, the last big drought farmers can remember. In that year, he got 100 bushels to the acre.

Ryan Klassy, information director at the Kane County Farm Bureau, said that farmers at the Kane County Fair were talking about what is going to happen to this year’s corn crop. Some fields, they said, are looking great, and others are not doing as well. The variation has to do with soil type and type of hybrid.

“It depends on soil type. Good black soil—of course it needs rain and is stressed—could do okay. Sandier soil is not doing that well,” Klassy said. “The variety of seed corn also matters. Different hybrids have different traits.”

Klassy said that how the corn does will depend on how much moisture we get from here on in. When Grever was asked what he thought was going to be the outcome, he laughed.

“I really don’t know. If I get two-thirds of a crop, I’d be happy,” he said.

The Farm Bureau compares this year’s drought to the one in 1988. During both years, none of the corn was rated excellent. While in 1988, 78 percent of the corn was rated either good or fair, this year 66 percent of the crop is rated poor or very poor.

The price of corn on the market is at a record high, up to $8 a bushel for corn and $16 a bushel for soybeans. The effect will trickle into other areas.

“The one that’s really going to feel it is the livestock feeder,” Grever said.

Many farmers have crop insurance that protects against yield or quality losses from natural disasters, including drought, excess moisture, cold and frost, wildlife and disease and insects. It guarantees that the farmer will get a portion of their usual yield.

“How can you not ( have insurance)?” Grever asked. “With the market variability, you can sell 70 percent ahead, and you know you’re going to get paid.”

As to whether or not this drought is indicative of a future pattern, Grever said that there are cycles that occur, and that this area of the country has been relatively stable.

“Our climate has been amazingly consistent and reliable since the 1960s,” he said.

Comparison of corn
and soybean conditions,
1988 vs 2012

‘88 Corn ‘12Corn
Excellent 0% 0%
Good 18% 7%
Fair 60% 27%
Poor 20% 30%
Very Poor 2% 36%

‘88 Beans ‘12 Beans
Excellent 0% 1%
Good 15% 12%
Fair 39% 38%
Poor 14% 25%
Very Poor 2% 24%
(source: IL Weather &Crops, published by IL Dept. of Agriculture USDA-NASS IL Field Office)