No. 15 Article 6/July 13, 2012

Drought Update: Corn Still Critical; Soybean Hanging On

There's little good news on the drought front, with the corn and soybean good-to-excellent ratings now at 19% and 20%, respectively, in Illinois, and more than 90% of soils rated as short or very short on moisture. A few showers over this past weekend offered a little relief, but only to small portions of the state.

As we look forward, we can expect every day without rain to bring further deterioration in the corn crop, with two main indicators: Canopy color starts to decline from green to yellow to "bleached" white, and pollination fails, either with tassels and ears failing to emerge, or with tassels emerging but no silks. It's only academic which of these takes place in a field; the result will be no kernels forming at all.

Less devastating, at least at this point, will be loss of fertilized kernels to abortion. We seldom lose all fertilized kernels to abortion before the start of serious grain-fill, but this is not out of the question this year. By July 8, 8% of the Illinois crop was listed as being in the "dough" stage. That doesn't mean these will fill out to become large kernels, but they will be recognizable kernels.

Soybean plants in most fields remain in a holding pattern, with leaves retaining their color but few flowers forming pods in the drier fields. It will be a week or two before we start to get a handle on what pod numbers might turn out to be.

We can remain optimistic for now that rainfall could restore good yield potential to the soybean crop where its height is above a foot and plants are still showing some growth. In the driest fields that still have green plants, however, plant and leaf sizes are starting to be limited now by lack of water, and at some point this will decrease the ability of the plant to fill pods that it is able to set.--Emerson Nafziger

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