Farm Progress

Prolonged drought takes its toll on corn yields

View from the Hill: Spotty rains miss more than they hit in central Kansas and corn crop suffers.

Paul Penner

August 6, 2018

3 Min Read
DROUGHT TAKES TOLL: Much of central Kansas still hasn’t sufficient rain and the toll on the corn crop has ranged from minor in areas lucky enough to have seen a shower or two, to a complete loss in fields missed by spotty storms.

Fall is fast approaching as daytime temperatures turn moderate and crops take on the look of fall colors I have seen many times before. Anticipation of the harvest gives way to frenzied activity as man and machines begin the ritual dance in the fields.

In some areas of the state, this activity has already begun weeks earlier, while preparations for fall seeding of wheat and cover crops are in full swing.

The season began with barely sufficient moisture in the topsoil, with subsoil moisture in short supply due to the previous year’s lack of sufficient rainfall. Even so, optimism reigned, confident that nature would once again bring forth her bounty as storm clouds would offer its life-giving rain.

Newly emerged corn and beans were off to a good start, though we knew this year would be dependent on a weekly contribution of moisture from the clouds. El Niño was projected to arrive sometime mid-summer — at the latest — and though it never came as predicted, our crops hung on, tapping into all available reserves in a “no holds barred” effort to survive.

By mid-July, we were aware this would not be the year for a normal harvest, which by definition is always elusive at best, anyway.

Timing and genetics were everything. On average, an early maturity hybrid, planted early, appears to have beaten the odds for pollination and fill. All other maturities were suffering to some degree, regardless of planting dates.

As usual, we have exceptions: three of our farms received an unexpected and isolated 1.4-inch downpour, not just once but twice. The crops took advantage of the extra moisture and are producing more grain.

FULL EAR: In fields that were lucky enough to get timely showers, corn has full ears. On average, early maturing hybrids, planted early fared the best at getting pollination ahead of the hottest weather of the summer.

Needless to say, rainfall patterns have been quite spotty and erratic in our area, with a double-digit deficit for the year during much of the growing season, compared to a 10-year average.

Our farm lies directly within NOAA’s extreme drought pattern, which has refused to budge all summer long. It seems we have a dome covering much of the northern portions of McPherson and Marion counties, and all of Dickinson and Morris counties, with isolated showers sneaking in only to tease inhabitants and raise hopes. Thunderstorms move southeasterly until they hit an invisible wall, then disappear and reappear on the eastern border, continuing on their way.

Soybeans, however, are still holding out. They are resilient and continue to set pods whenever a small shower comes along. This being the only bright spot in an otherwise difficult weather pattern.

Looking ahead as an eternal optimist — as most producers are — we are hopeful for a quick resolution to this ongoing global trade dispute, both for better prices and a renewed opportunity to restore and re-establish American agriculture’s reputation as a reliable supplier of the best quality food ingredients in the world.

And yes, that, plus a better year when Mother Nature brings us much needed moisture to make it all happen!

Penner is a Marion County farmer and past president of the National Association of Wheat Growers. His email is [email protected].

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