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How Bad Could Corn Yields Be In Drought-Stricken Ohio?

That’s a question that Peter Thomison with Ohio State University Extension has been trying to answer all summer.

“If I had to guess prior to the rains, I was thinking a worst-case scenario from 130 to 150 bushels per acre,” he says.

Thankfully, northern Ohio received rainfall late last week, bringing much-needed precipitation to the drought-stricken area. Will it be enough to make a difference for the corn crop? To answer that question, you need to understand what Ohio farmers have been dealing with this summer.

What’s the Situation?

There’s been a great divide between southern and northern Ohio this summer. The southern portion of the state has been abnormally wet with rainfall 110% to 200% more than normal in the past 30 days, according to the National Weather Service. That equates to 1 to 8 inches more rain than southern, and in particular southwestern, Ohio typically receives during this time period.

In contrast, parts of northern Ohio have received only 50% to 90% of normal rainfall. “The deficit in many areas was 5 to 6 inches less than normal,” says Thomison.

The reading from the drought monitor before the rain showed that 74% of the state was abnormally dry, 46% was in a moderate drought, and 15% of the state was in a severe drought. To put this in perspective, the last time 15% of the state was in a severe drought was back in 2012. The Ohio corn crop that year averaged 120 bushels per acre.

The USDA crop progress report for that week showed that 19% of Ohio corn was in poor to very poor condition, 34% was fair, and 47% came in at good to excellent.

Then came the rains.

Too Little Too Late?

In the last week, rains brought 2 to 5 inches through the central portion of Ohio. The outskirts of that section, including the northeast and northwest corners and the southern half of the state, received less, ranging from .5 to 2 inches.

The latest drought monitor reading, which came out yesterday and reflects conditions through Tuesday, shows an improvement. No counties remain in severe drought conditions, and the percentages dropped 5% for abnormally dry and 20% for moderate drought.

However, the latest USDA crop progress numbers for Ohio corn did not improve. In fact, the poor to very poor percentage moved up 3% to 22% of the crop.

In an average year, Thomison believes the rains would have been too late to provide much relief to the corn crop and improve the yield potential.

“In a normal year, the corn gets planted in late April to early May. With normal temperatures during the growing season, the corn crop is close to maturity at this time,” he explains. However, that wasn’t the case this year.

“This year a lot of corn was planted in late May. That corn in the midvegetative stages probably did benefit from the rains,” he adds. “The real question is whether the late rains will help some of the corn that isn’t as far along, and if it will be enough for the crop to cruise into maturity.”

That’s a hard one for him to get his hands around, he confesses. So he looks at three additional factors to help him get a handle on yields for this year.

The first is the forecast for August. “The forecast right now shows warmer-than-normal temperatures for August,” says Thomison. The National Weather Service shows that the precipitation for the rest of the month will be about normal for Ohio. However, rainfall in the summer can vary greatly from town to town.

“Even though we may get scattered rains, if we have high temperatures, that will hurt us,” says Thomison. “If we had moderate temperatures or cooler than average, that would be good.”

Thomison also looks at how this year compares to 2012. Remember, that was the year with the dismal 120-bushels-per-acre yield.

“In 2012, we had prolonged periods of high temperatures,” he says. “This year we had the next worst thing: a lot of temperatures in the 90s without rain. However, the drought wasn’t as widespread, so I doubt the magnitude of the losses will be as great.”

In other words, yields should be better than 120 bushels per acre.

This idea was reinforced by the Ohio Country Journal’s annual crop tour. The group broke down the yields geographically this year given the tough growing conditions in the northern area. Yields north of I-70 were predicted to be 134 bushels per acre, and the south was much higher at 180 bushels. The overall state average came out to 148 bushels per acre.

In the USDA’s most recent crop production report, which came out last Friday, the agency pegged the state average at 163 bushels per acre.

Thomison believes the USDA number is a bit too high and that the yields will most likely come out closer to those predicted on the crop tour.

“I would lean toward a lower number than the USDA,” he says. “Yield estimates come out early and can go down from there.”

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