Heat Wave Will Separate 'Men from Boys'

High 90's and high humidity forecast for CI plots this week.

Published on: Aug 6, 2007

The last thing a crop struggling to keep up with water demand needs is high temperatures. Most of pollination at the Corn Illustrated plots on the Jim Facemire farm, Edinburgh, Ind., happened the last two weeks, when temperatures were cooler. Now comes 90 degree F plus days, several in a row, with high humidity and only a small chance of rain. Weather forecasters say Indianapolis could reach 98 degrees early next week, with 90 plus forecasted for every day until then. Facemire's site is even farther south, about 35 miles south of Indianapolis in south-central Indiana.

Not helping is the fact that soils where the plots are located consist of three feet-plus of loam over gravel. Topsoil is not sandy, and that's why crops have survived so far. Part of the CI plots are irrigated, and reasonably good yields are still expected there. That high-yield experiment features three hybrids at two planting rates, 32,000 and 41,000 seeds per acre, plus Headline fungicide applied on half the plot at tasseling and pollination.

Interestingly, half of that test is irrigated. Another fourth received water last week when Facemire moved the pivot around to water soybeans beyond the corn. Soybeans in his area not privy to water are beginning to wither quickly. But the last quarter of the corn plot can't be reached by irrigation due to obstacles in the field. So there should be blocks of harvestable corn irrigated according to recommendations of a water management program on computer that the farmer utilizes, irrigated just after pollination, and not irrigated at all.

Meanwhile, on the non-irrigated, hand-planted set of plots, there are 60 different hybrids planted one-row each in six blocks of 10 each. "We should really start to see something there as far as differences in the ability of hybrids to withstand drought," notes Dave Nanda, consultant fro the Crops Illustrate project, and president of Bird Hybrids, Tiffin, Ohio.

The hybrids range from early to full-season maturities, and there was some difference in time of pollination. By next week, after continued dry weather and with severe heat stress added on top, Nanda expects to be able to pick out hybrids suffering more than others.

Facemire believes he's probably right. Just days ago, Facemire noticed a few ears hanging down in the same field where non-irrigated plots are located. The area he checked was not part of the plot, however, but was instead a commercial, 110-day hybrid from a major seed corn company.

When he pulled the shucks back, the corn was already denting. Just a week before, there were no signs of denting in the same part of the field. "I'm afraid it's just running out of water and giving up," Facemire says. His saving grace is that the majority of the corn in that part of the field wasn't to that point yet.

Stay tuned to learn what we find when we inspect all plots next week, and compare various hybrids for their ability to withstand stress.

"It's a horrific year for farmers in those locations, but it's a year where you can learn something about hybrids," Nanda concludes. It's also a year that makes it clear why irrigation is prevalent in that part of Indiana.