Drought hits sweet corn ears, same may hurt farmers’ corn

Duane Dailey

A couple of roasting ears from the grocery store showed me what may be happening in corn fields across Missouri. Most corn growing counties are under drought stress.

That sweet corn looked normal in the store. I buy ears still in their green shucks. That’s the way corn ears were when I was a farm boy.

Now, stores sell shucked ears wrapped in see-through plastic. I prefer nature’s way.

Even when shucked and boiled the ears looked normal. But, when I bit them, there wasn’t much there. Kernels weren’t even half size, not much corn on the cob. It wasn’t normal.

Our MU climatologist just said this drought looks like 2012. Then a major drought upset farm economics.

Now, as I drive across corn counties I see all of that good looking corn fields. I wonder if those ears of corn on the stalks are like that sweet corn I tried to eat. Yes, there’s pollinated kernels on the cob.

During critical kernel filling weeks, there was only spotty rains on corn fields. A few fields got a thundershower. Many did not. What looks like a good corn crop on a quick drive-by scouting, may not be.

Corn is a persnickety crop. It must have moisture at critical times during growth, particularly during silking and tasseling. As I’ve written before, a corn crop is a sex story. Pollination, the matching of pollen from the tassel at the top of the plant with the individual silks from each kernel site on the cob, must occur in perfect weather.

Corn is a one-and-done crop. Soybeans are a far different sex story. At each node up and down the soybean stem, there are several potential blossoms in each branch. If the first bloom doesn’t pollinate, it dies and falls off. A new bloom then emerges. The bean plant tries again and again to make pods. That requires the pollination, plant sex in bean fields.

In that extreme drought of 2012, corn failed. Soybeans made a crop. Big rains, remnants of a gulf coast hurricane the first of September, saved the soybeans on their last blossoms.

MU forage agronomists are telling farmers to prepare their cool-season grass pastures with fertilizer. Be ready to take advantage of fall growth to grow forage for winter grazing.

In 2012, the soy crop wasn’t hit with a political storm. This time, the beans may make a crop, but the price will be down. Beans are caught in a political war between our President and China.

Farmers become casualties in his trade war. Protection for steel workers became a slam on farmers. Inadvertent casualties.

Decisions were made on whim not economics. Farmers learn to live with whims of nature and weather. Maybe they can learn to live with whims of a socialistic federal bailout. In the past, free enterprise and free-trade economics rewarded farmers. Now, government will take over and make payments.

What now seems a long time ago, Jimmy Carter thought he could outfox free trade. He couldn’t. Then farmers took the brunt of damage from a whimsical decision.

So, farmers are in a wait and see stance. Either drought or drought-breaking rains will decide their fate. Trade resolve depends on what the leaders decide on any given day. We live in interesting times.

There’s another whimsy. A corporate decision to release an untested chemical weed killer adds doubt to soybean yields. The herbicide is very effective on soybeans genetically modified to resist the chemical. The unexpected damage comes to so many other crops, fruits and vegetables. Vapor from the chemical leaves the farms and kill plants in town, whether shade trees, flowers or gardens. We’ve never seen anything like what’s happening in farm country.

Such interesting times make great work for investigative reporters digging out stories.

Send your thoughts on weather, government and corporations to duanedailey7@gmail.com. Just facts and truth of the matter.