By RYAN ANDERSON
Analysts say this year’s state corn crop will be a mix of good and bad news.
On one hand, yields will certainly be better than 2012, when drought caused an all-time miserable crop. On the other, optimism that prevailed earlier this summer for a record crop has given way to disappointment about only an average crop.
Bob Nielsen, a corn specialist at Purdue University, said a record crop outlook persisted through the end of July, as timely rainfall and moderate temperatures led to favorable growing conditions. Since then, however, the rain has mostly ceased, and there have been prolonged stretches of scorching hot temperatures.
This has caused “a rapid deterioration” of crops, but Nielsen said a chance remained for a “good, solid, average yield.” He now expects an average to slightly above average yield.
In early August, the U.S. Department of Agriculture projected Indiana farmers would produce 979.4 million bushels of corn — annually the state’s largest crop — compared with the drought-reduced 596.9 million bushels last year.
Steve Palmer has a farm in eastern Grant County — half of which is corn and half of which is soybeans — and he said he expects a good or better-than-average yield this year.
Palmer said his corn is about finished, and he’ll likely begin harvesting at the end of this month. Between now and then, he’s hoping for a couple more inches of rain, moderate temperatures and no early frost.
Generally, the central part of the state has been even drier than the rest of Indiana over the last month, so the corn in that region could do even worse than the crops in the northern and southern regions, Nielsen said. Cooler temperatures are currently sweeping the state, but the latter park of the week and weekend should bring higher temperatures and more dry weather.
The outlook for next week is a return to normal temperatures with a slight chance of below-normal precipitation, but the state has been mostly dry over the past month, according to the State Climate Office at Purdue. An average of 1.73 inches of rain fell across the state from Aug. 1 through Aug. 27, down 1.5 inch from the normal of 3.23.
Nielsen added that favorable weather going forward could only prevent further losses, not recover what has already been lost.
“It’s getting pretty late in the game for the corn crop to recover because we’re within three weeks of reaching physiological maturity,” he said. “We needed rain in the last two weeks, not the next two weeks.”
Though any rain in the next few weeks won’t improve the current situation, it could prevent any further damage, he said. In other words, it could still get worse if the weather stays unfavorable.
For example, Nielsen said when a corn crop endures this type of stress, it often leads to a crop with lower stalk strength, and plants falling down prior to harvest is a major concern. The loss in stalk strength would only be exacerbated by severe weather and punishing winds.
Fields could develop stalk disease and stalks could easily collapse, which makes them hard to harvest, he said. When crops are lying on the ground, and the harvesting machine is incapable of picking them up, it’s termed a “harvest loss.”
Earlier this year, a windstorm whipped through Palmer’s farm, snapping some of the corn stalks, which will reduce his yield. He said it was a random disaster, however, because some stalks were snapped, while others experienced no damage at all.
Nielsen added that yields in individual, drought-stressed fields could fall by as much as 10 percent because of this dry spell, but yield loss would be in the form of reduced kernel weights — not numbers of kernels per ear — because most of the crops had already begun the grain filling period when the arid conditions took hold.
While this year’s crop will still be “infinitely” better that 2012’s draught-crippled yields, losing an opportunity for record-high yields is still “disappointing,” Nielsen said.
— Purdue Agricultural News Contributed to this article.
SO YOU KNOW
• On Thursday, the estimated grain price at Indianapolis-area grain elevators for corn was $6.09. According to YCharts.com, the average corn price in the U.S. in September 2012 was $6.89.