Late planting conditions coupled with high heat and below-average rainfall throughout June and early July could have spelled disaster for Ohio's corn crop this year. A reversal of meteorological fortunes during critical phases of the growing season, however, means a near-trendline yield is still possible, according to Ohio State University experts.
"Over the past three weeks I've been pleasantly surprised by how good the corn looks," says Peter Thomison, extension corn specialist and professor of horticulture and crop science. "We've managed to get some timely rains, and by and large we've been pretty lucky."
While acknowledging that pockets of the state have missed key rainfalls and may be more of a "mixed bag," Thomison says his overall impression of the crop has improved in recent days with improvements in weather conditions.
The lack of moisture during the first six weeks of the already-late growing season, plus periods with sustained 90-degree temperatures, was particularly concerning. Recent temperature moderation and significant precipitation have allowed plants to pollinate under near-ideal conditions, with favorable conditions continuing into the grain-fill stages of the season.
"Considering that we had late planting, the next six weeks will be critical to making a crop," Thomison says. "If we get key rains and favorable temperatures in the next 10 days, we should see some real benefits to the crop."
He said that during the grain fill period, extremely warm nighttime temperatures can be detrimental to yield. The cooler nighttime temperatures forecast for the 10-day outlook could actually aid grain fill.
Thomison isn't alone in feeling better about the corn crop than he did a month ago. Harold Watters, coordinator of Ohio State's Agronomic Crops Team, is similarly pleased with the turn of events this season.
"In general, we have enough water to make a crop this year," Watters says. "We had some concerns early that if it turned dry, we had a combination for disaster. But it looks like we'll actually have a reasonably good crop."
Both experts said a statewide yield not far off trendline is not out of the question - yet.
"It's still hard to say statewide, because I don't know the full magnitude of those regional pockets of extreme dryness and high heat," Thomison says. "I would say right now, under current conditions, it is possible that we could see a trendline yield, or at least within 5%."
Like Thomison, Watters strongly advised farmers keep an eye on fields of insect and disease pressures that could potentially rob yield.
"We're trying to get all we can out of it since it's a short season, late-planted crop," Watters says. "The Crops Team is trying to keep an eye on insects and diseases, and sharing what we find via the weekly C.O.R.N. newsletter."
Another potential issue is that after pollination, farmers relax on scouting fields. If insects like Japanese and corn rootworm beetles appear in areas where uneven plant development has occurred, keeping an eye on the crop is as important now as at any point during the season.
Wind damage recovery and stalk quality at maturity are additional concerns. Thomison advises producers to carefully monitor stalks, both for potential wind damage issues from midseason storms, but also because several farmers switched to earlier-maturing varieties this year because of the lateness of planting.
"As we get to the end of the month and into early September, it's important to evaluate stalk quality," Thomison says. "Those fields that are showing signs of poor stalk quality need to be earmarked for early harvest. That is critically important this season, to use the pinch test or the push test to find fields susceptible to stalk lodging."