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Corn, soybeans are on their way to a record year, but critical days still ahead, expert says

By Tim Thornberry
KyForward correspondent

Weather that has been so bad for tobacco producers has turned out to be very good for corn and soybean producers.

So good in fact that if projections from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service hold true, Kentucky and the nation could be looking at record or near record production levels for this year’s corn and soybean crops.


Kentucky corn yields could be among the highest ever this year. (KyForward file photo)

Before farmers start adding up the numbers and people get too excited, however, there are some critical days ahead, especially for corn producers.

Chad Lee, an extension agronomist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, said the state’s corn has a very good chance of having one of its highest statewide averages … in the field. But keeping those yields after harvest is another matter altogether.

“The reason I say, ‘in the field,’ I’m really concerned about late season,” he said. “This corn is going to be so late drying down in the field, I’m just concerned we’re going to have trouble getting it out.”

For much of the corn, it will be the end of August or the first of September before maturity hits, said Lee.

“If that occurs, that means our corn is trying to dry down in September and part of October,” he said.

Lee added that typically in September, days get shorter and temperatures cool down and if that does occur, dry down will be very slow.

“We would be looking at harvesting corn well into October and possibly into November,” he said.

The average first frost date for Kentucky is around Oct. 20, according to information from the National Weather Service. That should not be a problem for most corn, but Lee said there are still fields that are just now pollinating and frost would be a concern for that portion of the crop.

The 2013 growing year has been wet, to say the least, but Lee said that is much better than the dry weather experienced last year which left much of the state’s corn in ruin.

Because of the generous rainfall, the root structure of the corn crop did not need to be a large this year. That coupled with heavy ears high on the stalk and high wind occurrences creates the potential for another problem.

“Personally I’m worried about how well that corn is going to stand,” said Lee. “It may be just fine, but I think a lot of it is susceptible to heavy winds. In the field, it might be one of our best yields ever but we’ve got to get it in the bins.”

USDA projections

Last week, NASS released its August projection report. It noted a record 231 million bushels forecast for Kentucky corn, a 122 percent increase over the drought stricken 2012 crop.


The average yield of soybeans is expected to be about 44 bushels per acre. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

“Yield was estimated at 154 bushels per acre, up 86 bushels from the 2012 level. If realized, this would be the second highest yield on record,” the report stated.

And these numbers are projected even though there were 30,000 fewer acres of corn planted this year.

Nationally, the corn forecast stood at 13.8 billion bushels, up 28 percent from 2012, according to NASS. That would set a new record if realized. Yields are projected to be 154.4 bushels, the highest since 2009.

Lee said producers should have their dryers ready because waiting for it to dry down in the field is not something they will be able to do.

“We’ve got to be able to handle a lot of corn and a lot of wet corn and that will add a lot to the logistics this fall,” he said.

For soybean producers, a late start could mean concerns about frost later in the season. Right now, Lee said full season beans need timely rainfall for another three to four weeks. Corn producers however, do not need that much rain, placing the two crops at odds.

This year, Kentucky soybeans are expected to reach a record 70 million bushel level while average yields are expected to be about 44 bushels per acre, good enough to be the second-highest yield, tied with the 2004 and 2006 crops.

Lee said he doesn’t want to be pessimistic about the good news numbers, but the best thing for corn producers to do is be prepared and plan for a long harvest. That comes with a caveat. If September is hot and dry which is what the corn will need, then in the immortal words of Gilda Radner, when portraying Emily Litella on Saturday Night Live, never mind.

Tim Thornberry is a freelance writer and photographer who has covered Kentucky agricultural and rural issues for various publications since 1995. 

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