Reaching maturity

Corn plants in a Livingston County field reach skyward as they mature. As of Sept. 6, 80% of Illinois corn rated good to excellent with 23% mature compared to the five-year average of 29%, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service Illinois field office. (Photo by Catrina Rawson)

Numerous rounds of rain, including some heavy bands, saturated much of the area previously in drought conditions in northern Illinois during the first week of September.

But the moisture was a little late in the season to have a significant impact on crop yield potential.

“I’m thankful we got the moisture we did. It certainly helped pastures, forages and late-planted crops,” said Lance Tarochione, DEKALB/Asgrow technical agronomist. “But it would’ve helped a lot more three weeks ago. A lot of the (corn) crop already died or matured.”

The majority of corn in Illinois (86%) dented as of Sept. 6, 8% ahead of the average pace, while 23% of the crop matured as of that date, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service Illinois field office.

Rainfall from Sept. 2-8 ranged from 3 to 4-plus inches in a wide band from the Galena area in the northwest corner of the state down to the Quad Cities and over to Peoria and Bloomington-Normal in central Illinois, according to the Midwestern Regional Climate Center.

Overall, most of the northern half of the state received 1.5 to 3 inches of rain Sept. 2-8, with more forecasted this week. Much of southern Illinois received less than 1 inch during that stretch, including a band between Interstates 70 and 64 that received just .1 to .2 of an inch.

Now Tarochione hopes farmers get the window they need to start corn harvest on a widescale basis as stalk quality appears to be a concern at many locations. The forecast as of Sept. 10 called for nearly ideal conditions this week.

“The dry August put a tremendous amount of stress on stalk quality. A lot of crown rot resulted and there was a lot of premature death (of cornfields),” the agronomist noted. “If you have fields that died early, they should be moved up in the harvest schedule.”

Farmers should scout fields for potential stalk issues and previous wind damage as soon as possible. The color of the crop is always the first indicator, but farmers should also consider push tests to evaluate stalk quality, according to Tarochione.

“We have fields with a lot of wind damage,” he said. “Getting those out early will help harvestability of those fields.”

There’s also some significant disease pressure in corn, including tar spot from northern to central Illinois and southern rust in much of the state. But Tarochione doesn’t believe disease contributed much, if at all, to premature death of the drought-stressed crop.

The drought stress likely will lead to variable yields, with early harvest reports showing a 100-bushel yield difference within the same fields.

Therefore, Tarochione encourages farmers to begin harvesting corn as soon as the moisture drops to tolerable levels.

“I think this crop will dry down exceptionally fast,” he said. “This could be one of those years if you don’t start when it’s a little wet, you could finish when it’s extremely dry.”

Soybean harvest remained weeks away in many areas, with 2% of the crop dropping leaves (9 points behind average) and just 13% turning color (compared to the average of 33%) as of Sept. 6.

“Take advantage of this early window and get as much corn out as you can, with no beans ready to cut yet,” he added.