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Little hope for yield recovery in North Carolina

There is strong lament for corn in North Carolina as the state faces historic and prolonged drought during silking stages of corn development.

John Hart, Associate Editor

July 2, 2024

3 Min Read
brown leaf corn in North Carolina
Regardless of the growth stage of a corn plant, if the ear leaf is desiccated, completely brown, then that corn plant is a complete loss.Farm Bureau

Sometimes what you fear the most happens. This is the case for North Carolina corn farmers this year, as the state faces historic and prolonged drought during silking stages of corn development.  

As North Carolina State University Extension corn specialist Ron Heiniger puts it, there is strong lament. In a June 27 blog post  and webinar, Heiniger emphasized importance of determining if a corn ear leaf is desiccated, browning and wilting, to figure out if your corn will survive severe drought stress. 

“If that ear leaf is desiccated at any stage of the crop, it’s over for that plant. It will not produce yield. That plant does everything it can to protect that leaf, but once it can no longer protect that leaf and that leaf becomes desiccated, yield is lost,” Heiniger said in the June 27 webinar. 


Evaluating greenness and viability 

Heiniger said it is critical to notice whether a corn plant has greenness and a viable ear leaf. This determines whether pollen can pollinate corn silk to produce kernels on the ear of the corn plant. It is critical for the corn plant to achieve synchronization between the ear and the tassel. 

“Determine how many kernels are going to be pollinated. Once those kernels are pollinated, then we have hope. As long as that ear leaf stays green, there’s hope that that plant will continue to develop those kernels,” Heiniger emphasized.  

Beyond doubt, significant rain is desperately needed immediately.  

“If it doesn’t rain for the next three to four weeks, corn is not the only thing that’s going to be in trouble. None of this will matter because that ear leaf will eventually desiccate. For now, there is still some hope, and I would hate to give up a crop here when there is still hope,” Heiniger said. 

“Let’s not give up too soon. But on the other hand, let’s just not ride a crop and put fungicide on a crop and insecticide on something that is clearly not going to produce a yield any longer. Even though there are ear buds on that plant, those ear buds will be totally out of synchrony with any pollen that might be shed. The yield loss is almost total,” Heiniger said.


“That ear leaf is so critical for pollinating and sustaining those kernels. Any damage to that ear leaf results in severe loss. Once you have that, you pretty well know the game is up. There is just no way to come back from that. If that ear leaf stays green, then you can recover. If we can get rain this yield potential can be sustained, but once that ear leaf shows that desiccation, even just on the tips and the edges, it will sustain significant yield reductions,” Heiniger said.  

Heiniger notes that it is not uncommon to see prolonged drought during the silking stage of corn development in any given region of North Carolina every year, but what is challenging and depressing this year is the severe drought is statewide.  

As of June 25, the North Carolina Drought Management Advisory Council reports that 99 of the 100 counties in North Carolina are currently being affected by drought. This marks only the second time since 2000 that the state has seen an increase in drought classification for more than 50% of the counties in one week. According to the drought monitor, 57 counties are in moderate drought while another 42 have been classified as abnormally dry. 

USDA’s Crop Progress report for North Carolina for the week ending June 24 shows that the state’s corn crop is in predominantly poor/very poor shape. Seventeen percent of the crop is in very poor condition, 38% is poor, 21% is fair, 23% is good, and just 1% is in excellent condition. 

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About the Author(s)

John Hart

Associate Editor, Southeast Farm Press

John Hart is associate editor of Southeast Farm Press, responsible for coverage in the Carolinas and Virginia. He is based in Raleigh, N.C.

Prior to joining Southeast Farm Press, John was director of news services for the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington, D.C. He also has experience as an energy journalist. For nine years, John was the owner, editor and publisher of The Rice World, a monthly publication serving the U.S. rice industry.  John also worked in public relations for the USA Rice Council in Houston, Texas and the Cotton Board in Memphis, Tenn. He also has experience as a farm and general assignments reporter for the Monroe, La. News-Star.

John is a native of Lake Charles, La. and is a  graduate of the LSU School of Journalism in Baton Rouge.  At LSU, he served on the staff of The Daily Reveille.

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