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'Average by extremes'

Jeff Caldwell 07/03/2012 @ 11:32am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

Knee-high by the 4th of July is an antiquated term from decades ago that once described about how far along the corn crop would be by Independence Day.

This summer, though, reaching this milestone may be out of reach for some farmers whose crops are dying of thirst in what's now starting to be compared to the last major drought year of 1988.

"Ten more days of this and 120 [bushel-per-acre corn] will be too big an estimate, including here on my river bottoms," says Agriculture.com Marketing Talk senior contributor Hobbyfarmer, who owns farms in central Iowa and northwestern Kansas. "In 1988, they came in around 80 bushels/acre and hill ground did 25 bu/ac or less.

"This will be year 4 of bad weather here. The first 3 were too wet and now, this. Mother Nature loves to average by extremes."

Corn genetics and production practices have improved and changed a lot since that drought 24 years ago, though, and that has some farmers still holding out hope that the yield destruction won't be as severe as it was in 1988. Still, others see what's developing in their fields as a once-in-a-generation type of crop that even today's most modern technology may not be able to salvage.

"With increased irrigation and better crop genetics their is no reason why we shouldn't outyield 1988. I don't know how the rest of the country looks, but most crops within 50 miles of me look about the same with the exception of a few spots that received a rain at key points," says Marketing Talk senior contributor and southern Michigan farmer Blacksandfarmer. "My grandfather has farmed here since the late 1960s and has never had a year that corn yielded nothing. That includes 1988 where corn yielded 29 bushels/acre. This year, it is doubtful that we have a corn crop."

But, if you've got unpriced corn in the bin, these conditions could be a blessing. The market, including both traders in Chicago and global export partners, are quickly starting to take note of the conditions in the Corn Belt, and recent pricing action shows that. One step further, carryout stocks are already on the low side, making a short crop this year a major bullish factor looking ahead.

"I keep reading about this being like 1988. This is nothing like '88 because we went into that year with an 8-billion-bushel carryout," says Marketing Talk contributor Orthel7. "After the drought, we still had a 4-billion-bushel carryout. If we had had a good crop this year, the government projected close to a 2 billion carryout. In my opinion, we are not going to have a carryout and it could get real negative."


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