Hot, dry weather strains corn and soybean crops
Huge corn harvest still expected
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.”