By Gary Wulf
KANSAS CITY (B)--Some U.S. corn fields have entered their critical reproductive stage of development, with stalks standing tall in mild weather and roots sinking deep in rich, moist soil. Crop consultants say the best-looking corn is in the central Midwest and add that opposite ends of the corn belt remain on opposite ends of the soil moisture spectrum, with western fields still threatened by drought even though eastern fields remain mired in mud.
Weekly crop condition reports issued June 26 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture said corn had begun shooting silks and tassels as far north as Illinois, as far east as North Carolina and as far west as Nebraska.
In Tennessee, 35% of all corn acreage was said to have entered reproduction entering the week, well ahead of the five-year seasonal average of 26%.
And a Memphis-area grain merchandiser said that figure had skyrocketed recently.
"We are probably at the midway point on tasseling right now," he said. "We have had pretty good conditions for pollination as it has been cool the past couple of weeks."
In Kentucky, 10% of all fields have silked--10 times the usual amount--but in rain-sodden Ohio the pollination process has not yet begun.
"It rains just about every other day up here," said a Toledo grain buyer. "So we got the corn in late and we haven't had enough sun to really make it grow.... We will be lucky to have it waist high by the Fourth of July."
A farmer who recently completed a 1,400-mile trip across Ohio, Indiana and Illinois told other producers participating in an Internet crop scouting forum, "Northern and west-central Ohio looks terribly spotty, with some horrible corn that is yellow and suffers great height variations from water damage."
Crop consultant Michael Cordonnier told the Pro Farmer market advisory service his tour of the central corn belt turned up no corn in Indiana that had started to pollinate as of June 23, but he added, "There will certainly be some fields in Indiana that will start this week.
"I believe the peak pollination period, especially in the central corn belt, will occur between July 10 to 15, which is about a week earlier than normal."
Government statisticians estimated that 3% of the Illinois corn crop had begun to silk entering the week, three times the normal percentage.
"In Illinois, the most advanced corn is in the central part of the state, where the average corn height is about chest high," Cordonnier said. "The shortest corn is waist high and the most advanced corn is as tall as my head."
A western Illinois grain merchandiser estimated that 50% of the corn in his area would be tasseled by week's end.
"We have already got some where the pollination is done and the silks have started to turn brown," he added. "Believe it or not, things actually look just about perfect around here, and farmers will tell you they are looking at their best crop ever."
Cordonnier said, "Given the widespread heavy rains across the corn belt this past weekend, it appears that there should now be enough soil moisture to at least get through the majority of pollination. In fact, the rains would have to shut off quickly in order for any moisture stress to develop during pollination."
The lone exception to that prediction may lie in drought-stricken Nebraska, where corn also has begun the silking and tasseling process.
"We have had so much heat and sunshine the corn thinks it is August...and that is probably not a good thing," said one Nebraska market source.
Even though heavy thunderstorms drenched parts of the Missouri River Valley with up to 10 inches of rain during the weekend, Don Wilhite with the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln said the improvement in soil conditions may not last long.
"This moisture is going to be evaporated from the soil in a matter of a week or two," Wilhite told the Omaha World Herald. "People look at all this rain and they think the problem is over, but we are not out of the woods by any means."
Despite the downpours, Nebraska remains mired in its sixth driest fall-winter-spring period in the past 112 years in which records have been kept.
USDA Undersecretary Gus Schumacher toured previously parched portions of the third largest U.S. corn producing state recently and said, "Even with the rain, I saw knee-high corn that should be chest high--and we are now heading into the dry season."
Persistent heavy rain has slowed abnormally precocious crop development in the northern corn belt and delayed the start of corn pollination in such key states as Iowa and Minnesota.
"In North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, the corn crop will probably pollinate on par with the average date, which will be mid-to late July," Cordonnier said.