Jill Scheidt says the corn in Barton County, Missouri, is reflective of the region, which has seen hot, dry conditions for much of the summer. The University of Missouri Extension agronomist says it has been a challenging year for crops.
“Corn is the same as everybody else in southwest Missouri,” she says. “It pretty much looks horrible unless it’s under an irrigator.”
Scheidt estimates that 40 to 50% of the corn in her area has been chopped for silage. Barton County is in “Extreme” and “Severe” drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
“The corn that was planted early or on time, I don’t think it pollinated or pollinated well,” she says. “I have seen later-planted corn that did pollinate, but the ears are really small.”
The area did catch some rains in early August, she says, although not enough to break the drought. The soybeans in the area have been hanging tough, waiting for more rains which could make for a solid crop.
“The soybeans, they really need some more rain, but I still think it would help,” Scheidt says.
She says producers are also dealing with a short hay crop, even as many have already had to start feeding hay.
This summer has been quite a change from last year. For the MU weather station at Lamar, the county seat of Barton County, Scheidt says this summer has seen an average air temperature 4 degrees higher than last year, while seeing only about a fifth as much rainfall during the growing season.
Meanwhile, parts of northwest Iowa are seeing their second dry year in a row. Joel DeJong is an Iowa State University Extension agronomist covering nine counties in northwest Iowa and based in Plymouth County, which is the center of the drought in that part of the state — level three “Extreme” drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. He says local rainfall totals have been running behind last year and this year.
“That’s kind of a long-term drought,” DeJong says.
Still, some of his region, especially the counties bordering Minnesota, have received better rainfall and the crops look fairly good. Others remain in the grip of drought and have seen yield potential plummet.
“We’ve got a real mixed bag,” he says.
DeJong says some farmers have been chopping failed cornfields for silage. He heard of one field that was supposedly appraised at 2 bushels per acre yield by crop insurance before it was chopped.
Soybean fields in the area are entering the pod-filling stage, and rains in August would be crucial. DeJong says so often there is a close relationship between rainfall totals in August and soybean yields in an area.
“We’re getting in that stage, rainfall could make a world of difference,” he says. “There’s still a lot of potential. And we have some areas that are going to continue to deteriorate without rainfall.”
DeJong says that while parts of northwest Iowa were about as dry last year, hotter temperatures this year have worsened the effects.
He says hot, dry conditions speed up the time frame from pollination to full crop maturity and harvest, so there could be an early harvest. However, he says a lot of that will depend on weather conditions over the last few weeks of the growing season.
Overall, DeJong says about a fourth of the crops in his nine-county area are good, half are mediocre, and a fourth are showing significant stress.
“You put all that together, it’s probably still below trend line at this stage,” he says. “If we don’t get rain, it’ll be worse. But a rain could still help.”
University of Illinois Extension agriculture specialist Dennis Bowman says his area — Champaign and Vermilion counties — has seen dry conditions as well.
“The rains we’ve been getting are very streaky and spotty,” he says.
He is expecting reduced corn yields.
“The corn’s going to pull back a little,” Bowman says.
Soybeans continue to work through a critical month.
“August is the key month for soybeans,” he says. “How well they flower and pod and fill pods depends on rains.”
Bowman says the corn crop did set good roots this year, and he is impressed how well modern crops tolerate droughts.
“I’m always amazed at how well the crop tends to recover,” he says.
With dry conditions, Scheidt says harvest could start early in her area, as the drought has accelerated crop drying.
“I think actually there’s some corn ready now to harvest,” she says.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor map released Aug. 11, 38% of Missouri is in drought and 64% of the state is abnormally dry or in drought. In Iowa, 39% of the state is in drought and 64% of the state is abnormally dry or in drought. In Illinois, 5% of the state is in drought and 23% of the state is abnormally dry or in drought.