Mid summer corn

With much of the crop behind schedule, there is concern that cooler weather will slow development.

For many farmers in Illinois, too wet has become too dry. A spring that dumped record-setting amounts of precipitation in some places has given way in some regions to near drought-like conditions.

Bryan Duncan, who farms near Polo in Ogle County, is looking anxiously to the skies.

“We’re extremely dry in my part of the world,” Duncan said. “Rains of more than a quarter-inch have been really hard to come by since the middle of June.”

So far, Duncan has avoided a disaster.

“The crops are holding up surprisingly well,” he said. “Soybeans are really short. I think they just need a good drink.

“The corn on warm days is rolling and showing signs of stress. When it cools down, it’s doing okay. The early planted corn has pollinated. The later planted stuff is near tasseling. The later stuff is really going to need a drink.”

Farther south, conditions are varied. Gerry Rottmann with Dorsey Farms in Madison County, said farmers there are recovering from heavy late rains.

“In southeastern Madison County we had 33 inches of rain from March to July,” Rottmann said. “And they weren’t all nice, gentle rains.”

Like most Illinois growers, Tim Laatsch struggled with finding the right open windows for his planters to crawl though. The Effingham County farmer did get a little bit of corn planted during an open window in mid-May. Almost all had to be replanted. His second planting opportunity came during a seven- to 10-day period at the beginning of June.

“It has been a terrible spring,” Laatsch said.

He is now looking at fields where the lack of rain is starting to show. He said a rainfall on July 29 in Effingham County “may have saved the crop” there.

Duncan planted corn from the third week of April to the first of June.

“We planted in three months,” he said. “The one we planted the week after Easter took a lot of water on it after it got in the ground. But right now, the early planted stuff looks a little better. The later planted stuff went in in some poor conditions. It’s highly variable and rain-dependent.”

Rottmann said some of the corn plants may need strengthening.

“People are putting on fungicide because we’re concerned about stalk quality this fall,” he said. “That corn is going to have to stand a while. We haven’t seen any southern rust. There’s a little bit of gray leaf spot.

“With soybeans, as they get taller, they look better. We have some very good stands of beans, and we have a lot of thin beans. I’m never seen so many thin stands. As long as we control the weeds in Madison and St. Clair counties, we’re more fortunate than many others.”

One concern is an early frost, which could damage or doom some late-planted crops.

“We definitely don’t want an early frost,” Duncan said.

That could become a reality. Al Dutcher, climatologist with University of Nebraska Extension, said current weather patterns strongly suggest an early freeze this year. He said with much of the crop behind schedule, cooler weather in August will slow development and reduce the growing-degree days necessary to push the crop more quickly toward maturity.

“It takes three consecutive growing degree days in late September to equal one day in early August,” Dutcher said. “It will be interesting to see if we start September with cooler or warmer temperatures.”

But for Duncan, the immediate concern is for more wet stuff.

“In my area, we’re going to have to have some rain, or I’m afraid it’s going to be significantly below average for us,” he said.

Additional reporting from Phyllis Coulter and Jeff DeYoung, Illinois Farmer Today.

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Nat Williams is Southern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.