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Missouri corn crop condition causing worry after dry heat wave

Thursday, July 12, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:25 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 12, 2012
Crop insurers leave Kelly Forck's corn fields after checking their current condition Wednesday outside Jefferson City. Forck's crops are considered below average this year.

COLUMBIA — Farmers are paying close attention to their corn crop and the weather as the corn's most important growing period is coming to an end.

The hot, dry weather of the past few weeks made it difficult for much of the corn crop to successfully pollinate. This has led to 45 percent of the corn crop in central Missouri being deemed of “very poor” quality, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  

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The heat and lack of moisture is the main problem.  On Wednesday, U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack asking him to grant Gov. Jay Nixon's request for a primary disaster declaration for 114 counties in Missouri, the Associated Press reported.

The request is due to the losses sustained by farmers and ranchers as a result of the extreme drought. The declaration would allow them to qualify for Farm Service Agency emergency loans, emergency grazing and haying and other financial assistance.

Robert Garino, director of the Missouri Field Office of the USDA-National Agricultural Statistics Service, said the heat and drought are a double-whammy for crops. The heat causes them to need more moisture because they lose so much, but drought denies them water.

“The problem compounds itself,” Garino said. “If it were wet and hot, it would be one thing."

Mid-June to mid-July is a critical time for corn because that's when pollination occurs, Garino said. Each strand of silk on the ear of corn that is pollinated creates a single kernel on the cob, according to a news release from of the University of Missouri Cooperative Media Group.

Temperatures above 95 can kill pollen and cause silk to shrivel, according to an explanatory article by Bob Nielsen of the Agronomy Department at Purdue University. 

There is an “overall high stress level among the farmers,” Missouri Corn spokeswoman Becky Frankenbach said. 

The latest drought monitor issued by the National Weather Service on Tuesday showed nearly all of Missouri, including Boone County, in severe drought. The Bootheel is experiencing extreme drought, while the northwest corner of the state was in moderate drought.

Nathan Fields, director of biotechnology and economic analysis for the National Corn Growers Association, said in a news release from AccuWeather.com that farmers to the north "have a tremendous amount of yield potential left in their crop, provided they get timely rains."

But agricultural meterologists for AccuWeather worry that new and frequent waves of heat extending into mid-August will further stress crops over the Midwest.

Dealing with the weather is “part of the business,” said Kelly Forck, a farmer near Jefferson City who grows corn and soybeans. Even with the inch of rain his area got over the weekend, he still needs quite a bit more to replenish moisture lost during the recent dry heat wave.

Many farmers planted their crops early this year because of the warm, dry spring.  While this allowed the plant to grow before the intense heat, it also made the critical pollination period occur right during the worst of heat, Garino said.

The early planting bumped up the entire process for growing corn this year. Many farmers started irrigating about a month earlier than usual. This increased the expense, time and energy for some farmers, Frankenbach said.

Farmers will also harvest their corn early; Garino said most corn will be harvested between August and October. 

On Aug. 10, the USDA will release the first yield survey of corn for the year, Garino said. The yield survey will include information about measurements of the corn, as well as expected turnout for the rest of the corn crop.

The national yield estimate for corn dropped from 166 bushels per acre to 146 bushels per acre this July, according to the USDA. 

Many crop producers have been looking for insurance options to help relieve some of the troubles the discouraging corn crop might pose, according to another news release by the Cooperative Media Group. It offered several alternatives for farmers:

  • Harvest the crop early and use it as silage so it can later be fed to livestock. Farmers who choose that route would have the opportunity to plant another crop, such as soybeans.
  • Simply wait out the season, then report the yields to the crop insurance company, which could, in turn, give the farmer some type of compensation for reduced yields.

Farmers should first contact their crop insurance company before making any decisions.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.


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