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Central, eastern Corn Belt hurting for moisture

Agriculture.com Staff 06/15/2007 @ 12:16pm

With corn demand booming, there's little margin for error in the 2007 crop. But, recent abnormally dry conditions in the central and eastern Corn Belt may be filling that margin already.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, much of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio south of Interstate 80 are either abnormally dry or in moderate drought. In some parts of the region, rainfall totals for the month of May were around half of normal -- University of Illinois Extension agronomist Emerson Nafziger says since April 1, central Illinois has received half of the typical 10 inches of rain. Western Illinois has fared slightly better, but the dry conditions increase in severity from Champaign eastward.

"We really need some rain. I haven't seen it this dry since 1988," writes Agriculture Online Marketing discussion group poster Case IH farmer. "From the looks of it, I think this year the drought is pretty widespread and there are going to be pockets where they have good crops instead of, like last year, there were pockets of bad crops."

At this point in the year, drier-than-normal conditions don't "spell disaster yet" in Illinois, according to Nafziger. "We would rather have it moderately dry than very wet," he says. "I think if we got two inches of rain over every inch of Illinois today, I don't think the dryness up to now would have any effect."

The more serious concern for the Illinois crop, Nafziger says, is further along in July, when the corn will need around one-third of its total water uptake. In order to maintain optimal yield potential, the agronomist says surplus moisture must fall.

"To have their crop turn out outstanding, it may take higher-than-average amounts in the next six weeks just to have enough," Nafziger says. "It's always a problem to say we need higher-than-average rainfall especially when there's nothing to suggest that will happen."

Nafziger's latter point is true in the immediate future, at least according to Cropcast Weather Service. In a Dow Jones Newswires report Friday morning, the forecast called for a few rain chances early next week, but predominantly dry conditions are expected to persist through the rest of June. Some areas could see a light to moderate band of showers next week as a front moves through, but rainfall totals will likely be less than an inch.

In Indiana, where some of the highest producing corn counties are under severe stress, the eight-day outlook for rain is poor. The last significant rain Indiana producers received was on the Memorial Day weekend, ranging between one-half inch to three inches.

Tony Vyn, Purdue University agronomist says the rain that is expected to come in the next week is for the already wet areas of northern Indiana. The rain is needed in the southern and eastern parts of the state.

Agronomically, the drought is occurring at a time when the plant's ears are determining kernel row numbers, and the number of kernals per row, Vyn says.

"Every one of those factors limits ear-fill. All of those factors limit yield potential," Vyn says. "The plant has time to recover with better conditions later on during the grain-fill stage. So, it's hard to say how much yield has been lost at this stage."

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