Friday, September 06, 2013
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Some Illinois counties record moderate drought conditions

Is it déjà vu all over again?

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[September 06, 2013]  While some parts of Logan County recorded as much as 0.9 inch of rain for the month of August, most parts of the county were much drier. Some areas saw no rain at all in August.

Some corn planted in high-stress areas such as ponds or on ridges has already died out and dried entirely without producing ears. Other fields, either late plantings or late replantings, even failed to tassel by this date and are too late to have any production.

The 10-day weather forecast has nine days of zero or 10 percent chance of rain, and one day with a 40 percent chance, but that is five days away, and we all know forecasts can change significantly.

Tiles and waterways have ceased to flow. On-farm ponds are shrinking. The leaves on the outside rows of corn are now drying from the bottom up, and some whole fields have yellowed or dried leaves on the bottom half of the stalks.

The U.S. Drought Monitor map shows Logan County as yellow, indicating abnormally dry, and the beige area of moderate drought is creeping eastward from the western edge of the state. This moderate drought shadow will probably swallow Logan County in the next few days.

With these observations in mind, we asked the question, "Is this a repeat of what happened in 2012?" Will we experience low yields, with significant losses in some fields, and will we experience dangerous levels of aflatoxin again because of the advancing dry conditions?

John Fulton, of University of Illinois Extension for Logan, Mason and Sangamon counties, says that although we are having dry conditions now, this is a much different year than we had in 2012.

In 2012 we started out the year with little subsoil moisture because of a dry second part of the 2011 growing season. The crop was planted much earlier in 2012, and the heat came much earlier and pushed early production. Severe dryness in 2012 came in June rather than in August. Excessive periods of heat in late June, throughout July and continuing into August finished the crop very early.

Damage to the 2012 corn crop came from the long spell of excessive dryness and excessive heat, insect damage, and little change in temperatures from day to night.

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Alan Shew of Chestervale Elevator says that 2013 is a much different year. We started out with good soil moisture from spring rains. In fact, the ground was so wet that planting was delayed. With adequate moisture and moderate temperatures, the corn got off to a late but healthy start. There was adequate moisture when tassels and silk appeared, pollination occurred, and healthy ears formed up.

According to both Fulton and Shew, we are in the denting stage right now, when the kernel is starting to take on its mature form, settling the sugars and starting to lose moisture. Fulton says we are now looking at how much kernels will weigh rather than if we will have the kernels.

Shew said he does not expect molds such as aflatoxin to be a serious problem this year. Many producers applied fungicides to help ears to fill out a little more and reduce the threat of molds. Insect pests seemed to be reduced this year because of the rainfall cycle. While aflatoxin is always present, he said, we have not had the kind of stress that would make it a problem on a scale like 2012.

Fulton said we are still on a "wait and see" with aflatoxin this year. He provided a table from research in Georgia:

Fulton said that expectations are still for a larger-than-normal corn crop in our area. While it was looking like we were going to have a late harvest, starting in late September and extending through much of October, the dry conditions we are currently experiencing will likely hasten an earlier harvest.

Soybeans are still up in the air, since about 10 percent of yield comes in the last 10 days of their life. While the soybean plants are looking really healthy in the field today, if the plants died next week, there would be very little to harvest. If a rain comes in the next few weeks, the soybean crop could yield well.


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