Planting a crop every year means big ideas and big expectations, but things can change quickly.
“Corn has the most yield potential when it’s in the bag before it goes in the ground,” said Michael Witt, Iowa State Extension agronomist. “It’s like a new car, when you drive it off the lot — you lose value immediately.”
After a rapid planting season, persistent dry weather has some farmers worrying about what kind of value their crop will have in a few weeks.
“It’s been five to six weeks without measurable rain,” said Rick Juchems, northeast Iowa farmer and Iowa Farmer Today CropWatcher. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it this dry, this early, ever.”
The impact of weeks without precipitation can be seen on the June 15 U.S. Drought Monitor. Much of the Midwest is covered in some form of drought. Optimism is hard to find right now.
“The Drought Monitor is a bit more colorful than we’d like it to be,” said Travis Harper, University of Missouri Extension agronomist in Henry County.
Dryness has spread across western and southeastern Iowa, as well as central and northeastern Missouri as spotty rains fail to make any dents in soil dryness. Those rains mean crop stress isn’t as widespread, but very localized, Witt said.
“The spotty rain showers we have been getting are helping along whoever gets them,” said Witt, who is based in western Iowa. “The crops are very susceptible to that water. But there are areas that look severely stressed.”
Crops in those regions are also suffering from extended droughts in the past several years, which means moisture below the surface is minimal. Witt said in past years the crop could reach down and find moisture stored from previous seasons, but the soil has not had enough rain to replenish those reserves.
“We didn’t have a winter that was conducive to a lot of profile refill,” he said.
Witt said there have been some adjustments planning for the current season due to the long-term drought. Seed selection has become more important when dealing with these conditions.
“I’ve seen more emphasis placed on variety selection and placement within those fields,” he said. “You might see someone go with one that does better in drought conditions in certain fields because you’ve seen that field burn up a lot quicker than others.”
He said this hasn’t had much effect on herbicide programs. The plan is largely the same for many farmers, with the biggest change coming in terms of fine-tuning their rates and application windows around the sparse rainfall.
“I haven’t seen any more or less herbicide applied because of the dryness,” Witt said. “It’s more of someone having carryover in a field from two years ago and not wanting to see that again so they might switch herbicides.”
The big question on farmers’ minds is how much yield will be lost if rains continue to be delayed. An El Niño pattern has been officially declared, which can be a prelude to more rain, but each day without moisture can see those final bushel counts drop.
“The yield potential is set around the V6 stage,” Harper said. “We can still get to that potential, but the stresses we see at that point are really going to come to bear. The cooler weather has helped a lot in the last few days, but when it gets back to the 90s we’ll have corn that starts to roll before noon.”