Little good, mainly bad & a lot of ugly
Yes, the drought raging the Midwest is bad, as this Missouri corn shows. Still, there are promising crops in areas where farmers were lucky enough to catch a timely rain. Here’s what I found on a story swing from Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri.
Where it’s bad in Indiana, it’s bad. This head-high corn field east of Wingate, Indiana, in west-central Indiana has been hit-hard by drought.
The thinking, though, of Indiana farmers attending last week’s Purdue University’s Top Crop Farmer Workshop, is that soybeans still have a chance. These knee-high soybeans west of Indiana State Road 25 near Wingate were stressed, but were blooming and hanging in there. If rain falls soon, soybeans like these could snap back.
Then there was this fully canopied 10-foot-plus foot high corn field a little further south down the road. Chris Holt, district sales manager with Channel, stopped to chat while I was snapping photos. He pointed out this is a great looking field, having been planted early at a 32,000 plants per acre population level. Timely rainfall helped make the difference in this field.
It’s dry in central Illinois, too. When I snapped this corn field just south of Decatur, Illinois, a couple of Macon County’s finest asked what I was doing and politely asked me for identification. One of the deputies remarked that several of his farming buddies had been talking about how severe the drought was.
Knowing a bit about farming has its perks. When I told him this corn looked a lot better than some I’d seen in Indiana, he quickly concluded I was no security threat. This area sure looked like it could use some rain, but its deep green color during pollination hopefully ensures it will yield more come fall than corn in other unfortunate drought-stricken areas.
Bear in mind, though, that this area of central Illinois is in a severe drought as categorized by the most recent U.S. drought monitor report. These soybeans across the road will need rain soon if they are to fully flower and pod and make a good crop this fall. Just 17% of Illinois soybeans were rated as good or excellent in USDA’s most recent crop condition survey.
Then there is Missouri. This drought-ravaged corn field east of Jacksonville in northern Missouri is typical of much of the state. The consensus of those attending the University of Missouri (MU) Pest Management Field Day at the Bradford Research and Extension Center near Columbia is that Missouri corn is pretty much shot, but soybeans still have a chance.
At the station tour, Bill Wieblold, University of Missouri Extension agronomist, discussed a 2012 study to examine corn populations ranging from 24,000 to 44,000 plants per acre. “This was wrong year to do a population study,” deadpanned Wiebold. “44,000 (dryland) is not a good population if it doesn’t rain.”
A drought year can confirm some findings, though. MU studies have revealed narrow corn rows of 15 inches like these or 7.5 inch double rows have little response in Missouri. However, Minnesota and Wisconsin trials show an advantage for narrow rows vs. 30-inch rows, says Wiebold, Latitudal differences likely give an edge to narrow row corn in more northern climates, he says.
Early canopying aids weed control and it has been touted as conserving moisture. Compared to 30-inch rows like the ones in this photo, narrow rows may cost farmers moisture. “Narrow rows are spaced more evenly and suck out more water,” says Wiebold. Any moisture conservation edge for narrow rows also pales later in the season. “Now, moisture is being lost in the leaves, and not in the soil where it is canopied,” he says.
Check out some drought damage in some major corn-growing states.