Hot, dry weather strains corn and soy­bean crops

Huge corn har­vest still ex­pected

The Covington News - - AGRICULTURE & OUTDOORS - By David Mercer

CHAM­PAIGN, Ill. — So lit­tle rain has fallen on Dale Richter’s south­west Illi­nois corn and soy­bean fields this sum­mer that he has no trou­ble re­mem­ber­ing when the storms passed through. Both of them. “It’s been five weeks since we’ve had any rain,” Richter, 42, said last week from his farm in St. Rose, Ill., about 40 miles east of St. Louis. “We went from the first week of May to July Fourth week­end ... Then that’s the last we had.”

Dry, hot weather has been the rule over much of the Mid­west the past cou­ple weeks — and in some spots, the whole sum­mer. That’s stalled de­vel­op­ment of large por­tions of this year’s corn crop and raised ques­tions about the re­gion’s other sta­ple, soy­beans.

Be­cause U.S. farm­ers planted so much corn this year — 92.9 mil­lion acres, 16.6 per­cent more than last year — a huge har­vest still is ex­pected, ac­cord­ing to crop ex­perts and the U.S. De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture. Farm­ers planted more corn to meet de­mand for the corn-based fuel ad­di­tive ethanol.

The USDA ear­lier this month pro­jected that U. S. farm­ers will av­er­age a strong 153 bushels an acre.

But the weather has those ex­perts won­der­ing if the agency’s ex­pec­ta­tions might be a bit too rosy.

Parts of Iowa, the coun­try’s top corn pro­ducer, have been too dry and oth­ers too hot at the wrong time, when corn plants were de­vel­op­ing tas­sels, Iowa State Univer­sity corn spe­cial­ist Roger El­more said. Other ar­eas had brief, pow­er­ful storms that eroded fields and strong winds that dam­aged crops.

The USDA none­the­less says 64 per­cent of the crop is in good or ex­cel­lent shape and projects about 180 bushels an acre across Iowa. That would be one of the state’s best years ever.

The con­di­tion of the crop prob­a­bly varies too much around the state — and in some cases, in in­di­vid­ual fields — to pro­duce as much corn per acre as the USDA ex­pects, El­more said.

In Illi­nois, the USDA calls 73 per­cent of the corn crop good to ex­cel­lent. But next door in In­di­ana, where an un­usu­ally dry sum­mer parched most of the state, the corn crop clearly is in worse shape.

The USDA this week said a quar­ter of the In­di­ana crop is in poor or very poor shape, and only 43 per­cent is in good or ex­cel­lent con­di­tion. The USDA con­sid­ers more than half of In­di­ana to be in the mid­dle of a drought. Tem­per­a­tures last week were well into the 90s over most of the state.

But Pur­due Univer­sity agron­omy pro­fes­sor Bob Nielsen said In­di­ana farm­ers still will har­vest a lot of corn be­cause they planted 6.6 mil­lion acres, a mil­lion more than last year.

Like ex­perts in other Mid­west­ern states, Nielsen said it’s soy­beans that may re­ally take a hit — and In­di­ana farm­ers planted 4.6 mil­lion acres.

While corn crops have al­ready de­vel­oped, soy­beans gen­er­ally aren’t as far along in their grow­ing cy­cle and still are fill­ing the bean pods that are har­vested for feed and soy­bean oil.

“ In ar­eas where it was ex­cep­tion­ally dry, the heat of last week re­ally did a num­ber on it and I think took some of the fields over the edge,” Nielsen said.

In south­west­ern Illi­nois, an­other area in the mid­dle of a drought, farm­ers like Richter har­vested some of their corn weeks ahead of sched­ule be­cause it had stopped grow­ing. It wasn’t a bad crop, just not nearly what it could have been, he said.

But af­ter more than a week of tem­per­a­tures above 100 de­grees, it may be a dif­fer­ent story for his 400 acres of soy­beans.

“We need rain within the next seven or 10 days,” Richter said, “or the beans’ll prob­a­bly be a dis­as­ter.”

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