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Corn Across the Midwest is Showing the Effects of Heat and Drought, USDA Report Finds
Michigan Ag Connection - 09/14/2023

Recent heat and drought have fueled concerns about this year’s corn crop, as producers in the Midwest see a wide range of conditions. Dolf Ivener walks through one of his western Iowa fields, where many of the corn leaves have already turned from green to a dried-out hue of brown.

“Generally, this corn would be between eight and nine feet tall. And I would say right now that's, maybe, seven feet tall? So, it's probably two-and-a-half feet shorter,” he said.

Ivener tracks precipitation through a phone app and sees big variations between more than a dozen crop locations spread over several counties. Some of his farms received 21 inches this season, while others received around just 14 inches.

“And when you go out and look at them, it is glaring,” he said. “You don't need the smart device to tell you they didn't get as much rain.”

The recent record-breaking heat, paired with little to no rain, has impacted the corn crop across the Midwest. The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture crop report rates national corn conditions 53% good to excellent, down 5 points in two weeks. Farmers in parts of Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin are seeing the effects of hot temperatures; but Kansas and Missouri have the worst-rated corn with only a third reported as good to excellent.

Dennis Todey, director of the USDA’s Midwest Climate Hub, said the drought is having its biggest impacts on the heart of the Midwest, while things improve further east.

“Once you get over to Illinois, Indiana, and parts of Ohio and Michigan, they're starting to dry out more, but the conditions are not as bad. I think Indiana was actually going to be above average,” he said.

The hot, dry weather has sped up corn reaching maturity, with the USDA Crop report finding a national rate of 18%, double from the prior week. Todey said the crop is shutting down prematurely.

“It'll make for an earlier harvest season, so, there's one advantage that way. But there will be some yield loss and poor-quality yield because of this early maturity,” he said.

University of Nebraska Extension educator Eric Hunt said the latest wave of heat is likely to take a bite out of yields. While the USDA’s estimates in August put the national corn crop at around 175 bushels per acre, he expects that number to be lower.

“The weather has been more of an impact this year than it’s been realized,” Hunt said. “I believe we probably have underestimated the impact of the more recent heat in recent dryness.”


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