Weather Guru Sees Strange Twist to Corn Crop

'He who starts first finishes last?'

Published on: Jul 30, 2007

The long-time ag climatologist, Elwynn Taylor, Iowa State University, made a car trip to West Lafayette, Ind., last week to address Purdue University's Top Farmer Crop Workshop. He traveled by car to get a better feel for what crops are like, he noted.

"Illinois is a garden spot," he says. "It looks very good." It's one of the reasons why, based on weather alone, Taylor's models indicate a U.S. corn yield above trend yield, at 152 bushels per acre. He says another source, dealing more with observations, is at 150 bushels per acre. When asked about the minimal quality of some of the extra acreage brought into corn production nationally this year, Taylor responded that he had already accounted for that in his weather model.

He is one of the few ag climatologists doing crop modeling based on weather now that Jim Newman, former Purdue agronomy professor, has retired ... again. This time Newman has hung it up for real, he insists, and is not following crop development this summer. Newman, still active but pursuing other interests, is in his mid-80s.

Here's the rub from Taylor. The western Corn Belt started out great, with Nebraska, Minnesota and much of Iowa getting off to near-ideal starts. If anything, there was too much water in a few places. Our Nebraska editor, Don McCabe, says that until July 1, Nebraska was ideal. Known as an irrigation state for corn, many of the irrigation rigs had yet to run.

That's not the case now, and Taylor predicts those rigs will continue to run. He's looking for drier than normal weather for the rest of the season in the western Corn Belt.

Meanwhile, the eastern Corn Belt, except for Illinois, which he counts in the eastern belt, got off to a rocky start, with a wet April and then dry-as-a-bone May and June in many areas. While some areas have seen relief, it continues to be hand-to-mouth, with real damage being locked in every day, especially for corn, in parts of the eastern Corn Belt. But Taylor sees normal weather patterns as most likely for the rest of the season for the eastern Corn Belt.

Put it all together and the eastern belt should improve from here on out, while the western belt may decline in corn yield. The result will be his predicted 152 bushels per acre, Taylor notes.

"Am I saying Ohio will reach trend yield, where many parts were hit hard by dry weather early?" Taylor asks out loud. "No, but Illinois will offset it. When it's all said and done, my model still shows us above trend yield."