Walk to Center of Corn Field To Examine Crop

Windshield surveys like playing Lottery this year.

Published on: Sep 5, 2011

Outside of the few people who have run corn already and know it was either better or worse than they expected, there are many stories running throughout coffee shop land in ag communities about the upcoming crop. Based on conversations a the Farm Progress Show recently, these seem to separate into two categories: those who have driven by their fields and think they look good, and those who have actually been inside their fields, if not all the way to the center, at least off the end rows and well into the field.

We've yet to meet a farmer or agronomist who said the corn was as good or better once he got into the field than it looked from the outside. Instead, in almost every case, the ears are smaller, there are more barren stalks, and in most cases, there is a problem with kernel set, from unusually long bare cobs at the end, signifying tip abortion, to unusual pollination patterns and ear shapes.

An agronomist with Beck's Hybrids, Denny Cobb, thinks he knows part of the reason why. He and other agronomists estimate it was up to 15 degrees hotter in the middle of the field than on the outside. Add that to the 90 to 100 degree readings during critical pollination periods, throw in the heat index, and you're at temperatures that can possibly affect survivability of pollen, let alone interfere with how well silks emerge on time.

So far the reports are anecdotal. Few yields have come in. One specialist acting as a panelist on a program for a university outside of Indiana, claimed early reports in Illinois of harvest indicated yields might be better than the Pro Farmer corn tour estimated, which low-balled corn estimates well below USDA levels. Yet a colleague with a different company totally disagreed, saying that person simply didn't have enough reports yet.

More light will be shed on this subject soon as the USDA prepares to release its September report. Will USDA stand firm with their August estimates? Or will it begin to back off yields both in Indiana and nationally, as they did a year ago?

Last year, many contributed their high error factor to high nighttime temperatures during the critical period, which didn't factor into their formula. Greg Preston, state statistician in Indiana, says that USDA did not change the formula for 2011. Yet there was a repeat of the high nighttime temperature phenomenon, and to top it off, a string of 90 or higher degree days during the critical period that has never been seen before in Indiana.

How much damage it actually did remains to be seed.