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Even at an early age, Cheryl Day was a passionate and practical advocate for agriculture. Check out her viewpoint on current agricultural topics.

The Diary of the 2011 Corn Crop

Sep 12, 2011

At the beginning of a farming season, the odds for payout are better in Vegas. Farming is a gamble and, honestly, it takes passionate individuals wanting to produce your food to continue to battle the odds Mother Nature deals. In any growing season, farmers face challenges. In 2011, a majority of U.S. farmers faced extreme challenges. In this blog, I share journal entries from growing a corn crop and the impact on consumers.

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In April, the soil temperature and conditions reached optimum time for planting. The family was able to plant many acres of corn before it turned extremely wet and cold. In some fields, the seed remained in the wet, cold soil before sprouting. After a couple weeks of idle time, the family was expecting the seed to rot in the ground. Due to the innovation in seed technology and excellent drainage, the seed slowly began to emerge two weeks later.

 

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In May, the family returned to the fields and finished planting all acres of corn and soybeans. The remaining days of May and June were typical Illinois growing days, shaping an above-average crop, throwing the odds in favor of the farmer.

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Then in July, the rains stopped and the heat intensified. As the corn began to pollinate (at a crucial growth stage), the heat index reached 105 plus and still no rain. By the end of August, some of our fields were lucky to receive the ½ inch rain since June 30, missing rainstorms left and right. At this point, the odds for our fields in central Illinois to produce a record-breaking yield are a long shot and in fact I can probably declare it a bust. With the intense heat and lack of rain, the stress of the corn plant is visible. The amazing corn plant is now working overtime to produce kernels on the ear corn.

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In the middle of August, the ripening of the corn crop is several weeks ahead of schedule. Sudden death of the plant is evident. Although cooler temperatures and scattered rains were welcome, the delivery point is actually beyond the time to assist the corn plant to yield a 200 bu./acre crop. Several yield checks were done in the area and results were scattered. The prediction ranged from 100 bu./acre to 208 bu./acre, depending on time of planting and amount of rain received.

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The family anxiously awaited the dealer’s hand to be revealed -- at which end of the predicted yield range will our corn crop land? Then, kaboom, Mother Nature was not done with our corn crop yet. As the cold front moved in, so did the wind. The corn plant’s stalk was its weakest component. In drought years, the corn plant gives all its nutrients to developing the grain, leaving the stalk system weak and showing malnutrition. Down corn can be hard to pick up and can result in low yields.

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A few days before the Labor Day weekend, the corn was below 20% moisture. Ideally, corn is harvested in the 18% moisture range or lower, with 15% the target before facing a drying charge from a grain handler (grain elevator). The family began to harvest. The April planted corn was yielding in the 180 to 200 bu./acre range. However, as we move to harvest with the down corn, the yields drop to 100 bu./acre.

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You may be asking yourself why I gave you the diary entries of our corn crop. It is simple. When you read the headlines or hear the latest news mention there is no room to increase the demand of corn, you can recall these journal entries of the Midwest corn crop. Simple journal entries can easily reveal that ethanol is not the culprit. This year, a majority of the agriculture community struggled with some kind of weather obstacle: flood, drought, wind, fire, etc. Even this family farming in the world’s best soil for growing corn and soybeans produced fewer bushels. Multiply that by the majority of Midwest farmers and the result is less corn.  

The amount of farmland is shrinking at an alarming rate. The most recent National Resources Inventory (conducted by the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service), covering the 25-year period between 1982 and 2007, reveals that more than 23 million acres of America’s agricultural land have been lost to development—an area the size of Indiana. We cannot farm concrete, and we cannot wave a magic wand to produce more farmland. So the agriculture community must rely on innovation like biotechnology to increase the odds against Mother Nature and to protect the land, air and water.

  

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