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Dry Weather Takes Edge Off Bountiful Harvest

Combine harvests corn
Nati Harnik
/
AP
Some farmers are taking corn from their fields sooner than they would prefer because dry weather has caused stalks to die prematurely.

What had promised to be a record corn crop in central Illinois earlier this year may not be one after all. Dryer conditions are forcing an earlier harvest in central Illinois.

Bill Leigh farms near Minonk in Marshall County. Leigh said Monday that harvesting already has begun in many places.

Leigh said the untimely dry weather also is exacerbating fungus problems that began earlier in the year when there was too much rain.

"When we had those long spans of wet humid days, it just inoculated these plants. The heavy rains when the corn was small — what happens a lot of time with these funguses is, when the soil bounces, it will put the pathogens on the leaves so the plant when it grows it goes up with them," said Leigh.

Leigh said it was tough to schedule spraying this year because many growers had needs for anti-fungal treatments.

"My understanding was the local supplier, at one time there were 600,000 acres on the list to get sprayed with just the one spraying operation. They were running two to three weeks late in some areas," said Leigh.

Leigh, a former Illinois Corn Growers Association president, said farmers have begun bringing in the corn early to prevent stalks from toppling and complicating the harvest.

"We've missed some of these rains and we have gone longer spans between them, and I think the plants are starting to cannibalize the stalks to put the nutrients into the ear. So, they are dying probably prematurely," said Leigh. "If you get out in the country you will see areas in a field where the plants are all brown and then you'll see 50 feet down the field where they are kind of green. Preferably, you would like to see them be green this time of year if you have had the moisture."

Leigh said a corn field that has been broken over and laying on the ground is not a lot of fun to pick up — taking more time and more money to bring in.

"I think it has good potential still. But this last month has been really tough on it. Until a plant reaches 35% moisture, it is physiologically mature at that point. The plant will not put on any more yield at that point," said Leigh.

The consequence of taking from the fields early is the corn has a higher moisture content and costs more to dry at elevators, and some kernels have yet to mature. Leigh said they are taking it at 28% moisture content, which requires more drying to store safely for longer periods. He said 28% corn costs 28 cents a bushel to dry; 18% percent corn moisture levels costs 10-12 cents per bushel. Moisture levels suitable for storage are 14-15%, he said.

"I have heard some friends say they have lost 10% of the yields they thought they were gonna have. I have not had enough corn in my area taken out to get a good feel for that. I still think it is going to be a nice crop, but not the record people thought it would be a month ago," said Leigh.

Corn prices are still fairly healthy because China has now replaced its hog herds after the African Swine Flu took out the majority of hogs in that country a couple years ago, though there are reports that disease is coming back in China. Leigh said profitability should be pretty good even though fuel and fertilizer costs were up significantly because of pandemic- related supply chain issues.

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