Scant rains raise concerns over U.S. corn crop -RTRS
By P.J. Huffstutter and Julie Ingwersen
CHICAGO, May 31 (Reuters) – Even as much-needed rain fell across the U.S.
Midwest on Thursday, farmers continued to worry that the recent high heat and
dry weather across the nation’s grain belt could sour yield prospects for corn,
crop experts and analysts said.
Forecasts for much of the central and eastern Corn Belt promised only meager
rains of less than an inch in the coming days — which would do little to
curtail the spreading dry conditions.
And fear of dry conditions has left the U.S. corn market uneasy, as timely
rains are key to yields.
Despite the dryness, experts say there is still time for the corn crop to
produce a healthy yield, especially if the region sees steady rainfall in the
next few weeks.
If conditions remain dry during the plants’ pollination period in July,
yield prospects could be far worse, said Emerson Nafziger, a professor of crop
sciences and extension agronomist at the University of Illinois at
“If July is not good, then the corn won’t often keep its kernels,”
Nafziger said. “If it’s dry in August, soybeans will often have reduced
The Midwest corn crop typically pollinates in July, setting yields, while
soybean yields are determined during the pod-setting stage of development in
Part of the problem, Nafziger said, is that the corn and soybean plantings
in the Midwest started very early this year due to the mildest winter farmers
had seen in decades.
The favorable conditions led the U.S. Department of Agriculture to project a
record-large corn crop of 14.79 billion bushels this year on a record-high
yield of 166 bushels per acre.
Markets have been counting on such a bounty to replenish corn supplies that
are forecast by the USDA to drop to the lowest level in 16 years this summer.
The bumper 2012 crop projected by the USDA will help to more than double ending
stocks next year.
Livestock producers — struggling to keep down production costs after corn
futures hit a record high near $8 per bushel last summer — were hopeful feed
costs would ease. Consumers, too, hoped such bounty might trickle down to
cheaper prices at the supermarket for their meats.
But as the weather turned hot and dry, farmers’ eagerness to plant early
resulted in the crops needing more moisture than normal for this time of year,
said Don Keeney, meteorologist for MDA CropCast Weather.
How much this so-called “flash drought” will impact this year’s
corn and soybean harvest is still unknown, though signs of trouble are
Farmers across Indiana and Illinois report curled leaves on corn stalks and
soybean plants failing to break through the soil. The dryness, and in
particular the dustiness, of some fields has been making herbicides farmers
have applied on their corn less effective.
And a field agronomist with seed giant Pioneer recently raised a red flag in
a weekly report to customers about news of corn plants listing in the wind
because of underdeveloped root systems.
The rootless corn problem in the southern, south-central and northeastern
parts of Iowa, “it’s been the worst we’ve seen, to my knowledge,”
said Roger Elmore, Iowa State University extension agronomist.
“If you lose 5 percent of your plants, you’ve lost close to that much
in yield potential,” he said. “Most of the fields I’ve been in have
been 1 to 5 percent of plants like that.”
Jeff Wessel, the Pioneer field agronomist, wrote in his customer note last
week that reports of rootless corn are rapidly streaming in from nearly
everywhere where rainfall has been well below normal.
“These reports have ranged from 5 to 50 percent of plant stands
affected,” Wessel wrote. “With continued warm and even hot
temperatures forecasted; and a continuation of bright sunshine and strong winds
— the problem is not likely to abate soon.”