When Farm Progress Companies decided to move the Farm Progress Show from its traditional time in late September or early October, the firs thing they did was plant the earliest corn they could as a trial, before they told anyone. The corn had no trouble maturing, often ready well before August 30. They figured that in almost every year, they should be OK and have corn to harvest.
Well, if you hadn't already figured it out, this is that 'not quite like any other season ever' year. With only three days of 90 degree plus or higher temperatures in Des Moines, Iowa, through Aug. 30, corn has matured at a slow pace, much like it ahs across most of the Corn Belt, including the Corn Illustrated Plots near Edinburgh, Ind. Normal number of 90 degree plus days for both Des Moines and Edinburgh is around 20 days per season. Edinburgh recorded nearly 40 last year. The Farm Progress Show at Boone, Iowa, was located about 30 miles north of Des Moines.
The Iowa corn growing on fields intended for field demonstrations at the Farm Progress Show Aug 26-28 was planted May 20. A wet spring precluded planting any earlier. But the crew planted 78-day corn, the earliest they could find. They didn't anticipate problems having ample acres ready for corn combining, and then ample acreage of stalks available for tillage demonstrations during the show.
As it turns out, Mother Nature had other ideas. The corn was still gourd green during the show, and the grain had not reached physiological maturity, also known as black layer. Three weeks before the show, the crew made the decision that combining demonstrations would not be possible. It wouldn't be fair to run combines under such unusual conditions with corn that wet. As it turns out the corn was still 40% or higher during the show. Rain on the second day would have knocked out demonstrations anyway, at least temporarily, but Mother Nature had already done the damage with a cool growing season where growing degree days have accumulated very slowly.
If anyone doubted just how slow this crop was maturing across the Corn Belt, what happened in Iowa should be a wake-up call. The only fields around Edinburgh showing that they might be ready for harvest within the next 30 days are those on gravelly soils, or those planted very early, or those afflicted by nitrogen shortages or serious disease problems The population comparison study of the Corn Illustrated plots was planted May 5, and with dry weather over the last month, could be ready in 30 days or so. However, the other two plots, both planted the last week of May, one on irrigated land with high N rates and the other on naturally somewhat poorly drained soils, are still far from reaching maturity.
What the slow-maturing corn crop means is that it might be a year to get the dryer ready now. Not having much need for dryers over the past several seasons, it appears that luck is about to change for farmers, just when energy prices are near or at record highs. Best advice Dave Nanda, consultant for Corn Illustrated, can offer is have dryers ready and check fields that have been stressed, by wet weather early or dry weather late, or by diseases, for signs of stalk rot. Mark those fields that show the most lodging potential for early harvest. However, recognize that 'early' harvest might be a relative term this year compared to past years.