As high as an elephant's eye

Corn in Delaware basks in sun, rain
Brad Ritter stands in a Lewes-area cornfield after a rainy weekend. Ritter expects to have above average yields when he harvests in mid-September. BY RACHEL SWICK MAVITY
August 1, 2013

The corn may not be as high as an elephant's eye, but it is getting close.

Heavy rainfall paired with warm sunshine is what corn craves, and this year's weather provided it.

Lewes-area farmer Brad Ritter said the weather has made it an interesting year. The cool spring pushed planting back to mid-April, Ritter said.

Then the summer warm-up and rain pushed corn growth, even though Ritter said some of the hot days during pollination left a few stalks without ears.

"The fields are looking good, so I am cautious, yet optimistic," said Ritter, who expects to harvest his corn mid-September. "I don't think it will be a record year, but it may be above average."

Agriculture Secretary Ed Kee agreed, saying many farmers he's talked to say the same thing. While sweet corn is showing up now at farmers markets and grocery stores, feed corn will be harvested closer to fall.

“We had so much moisture that the corn kept on growing,” Kee said, noting many farmers are seeing higher-than-average corn stalks. “It hasn't been exposed to drought, so that's why it is growing so high. The corn really likes the hot weather, especially with the moisture still in the soil.”

At this time last year, farmers were talking about how dry it was. Many farmers were cutting down fields of corn that had failed to pollinate and would not produce of corn.

Low-lying fields did not fare well; rainy weather flooded some areas. Where water stood on the ground, the corn seeds were washed out, leaving empty patches in otherwise healthy corn crops.

“Some stalks have two ears of corn on them,” Kee said, which means double yield from one plant.

“It will vary, but corn yields should be better than last year,” he said.

Even if Mother Nature decides to stop dropping the wet stuff, the corn will likely not suffer. The moisture in the soil remains high and would sustain corn plants through several weeks of dry weather, Kee said.

“The other great thing about this year is the farmers have saved a lot of money by not having to purchase fuel for irrigation,” Kee said. “We're talking thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars saved.”

Nationwide, farmers tell the same story – good corn yields are predicted. In the Midwest, some farmers waited to plant because early rain left heavier soils in the region waterlogged.

Kee said soybean crops are also looking good, but since soybeans were planted later than corn, the plants are still susceptible to dry weather in August. In addition, potato crops and watermelon crops were harvested a little late because of wet fields, but Kee said the harvests are looking good so far.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture yield predictions for feed corn are expected to be released Monday, Aug. 12.

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