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Missouri corn crop overcomes early fears

Monday, August 18, 2008 | 8:42 p.m. CDT

Gold tassels wave in the breeze from the tops of green towers swaying above the heads of hopeful farmers. Fields stretch to the edge of the horizon under the warm sun. It seems the corn will flourish despite its unsure beginnings.

Missouri's corn crop has survived a lot. Excess rainfall in April and May prevented many farmers from planting their corn early, creating a host of obstacles for the crop.

Because of the early rainfall, many fields are now deficient of nitrogen, an element essential to protein production. The fields with lower nitrogen levels have produced uneven and sparse stands, with plants that are more yellow than green, that haven't grown as tall and won't produce as many kernels, said Bill Wiebold, plant sciences professor at MU.

The most troublesome issue with planting corn late and in wet soil is the damage that can occur in the root system, Wiebold said. But cooler temperatures and more rainfall than normal this summer kept root damage from being a problem.

"We're fortunate the weather has cooperated," Wiebold said. "Now we have to wait and see when the combines start to roll."

The harvest will start a little later than normal this year, probably mid-September, but the Missouri corn crop is expected to be the fourth best in history despite early setbacks, said Mike Geske, president of Missouri Corn Growers Association and corn farmer from southeast Missouri.

Brian Flatt of Flatt Farms in Centralia said that his crop is looking to be above average, but now the challenges are to get the corn out in a timely manner and in good weather conditions. One of the biggest threats left to this year's crop is that of an early frost, which would be devastating to immature corn.

If the weather stays consistent, Missouri will have enough corn to meet market demands, said Ron Plain, professor of agricultural economics at MU. When corn yields are predicted to be high, the futures price drops. For farmers, this is the negative effect of producing high yields, said Plain.

"If the corn price drops below $5 a bushel, we will struggle to make ends meet," Flatt said. "The input costs have gone crazy in the last couple of months."

Perhaps the worst part about this late season is the extra cost of artificially drying the young corn because it won't have time to dry naturally in the hot months, Flatt said.

With such a late planting, this crop could have been devastating for farmers, and it still could be if Missouri gets an early frost, Plain said.

"We won't breathe a sigh of relief until it's harvested," Geske said. "But the corn is really looking good right now."

Geske said he is sure the corn crop won't fall short of optimistic predictions, barring an earlier than normal freeze, but Wiebold isn't so sure. The United States Department of Agriculture's report may be a little inflated, he said.

Whether it's a little high or a little low, the crop has been surprisingly better than was expected in April and May.

"The continuation of rainfall into late summer has saved this crop," Flatt said. That is quite a turnaround, he said, because it was the spring rains that put the crop in jeopardy in the first place.

 


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