Wanted: A new corn-growing catch phrase

Young corn soaks up the sun.
photo: freeimages.com

The “Knee-high by the fourth of July” phrase needs to go. It is long overdue for a new phrase because this one has not been a good measuring stick for corn for decades. The only grass (corn is a grass, for those who did not learn that tidbit of info as a farm kid) that should be knee-high on the fourth of July is the grass on the edges of my yard when I do not get out the string-trimmer. These days, waist high is probably the minimum acceptable height for most areas of the country, and chest-high or head-high is more typical. Or perhaps we should just repurpose the phrase to refer to the soybeans as it is now more typical of them to be knee high in early July.

Much as my father does and his father did before him, I do a from-the-highway visual inspection of fields as I travel. In the past few weeks I have been around Eastern and Central Iowa and Northern Illinois. Overall crop conditions appear quite good with the exception of some flooding (we had just a wee bit of rain last week to the point where the Cedar River in Cedar Falls was more than six feet above flood stage).

But do not just take my word for it; as any good engineer would suggest you should look at the data rather than just some general statements. The best place I know to look is in the weekly USDA Crop Progress report. The latest report issued Monday has corn condition as 74% Good or Excellent with only 5% Very Poor or Poor. Last year at this time the numbers were somewhat worse (65% Good/Excellent, 8% Very Poor/Poor) but still not too bad. The 2012 numbers, when the drought was kicking into gear, were quite a bit worse with only 56% Good/Excellent and 14% Very Poor/Poor. By the end of the 2012 corn season, those numbers had degraded to 25% Good/Excellent and 50% Very Poor/Poor. We can all hope we do not see that again anytime soon. The soybeans numbers for crop condition in 2012-2014 are similar. Tangent: The data for 2013 end-of-season crop conditions for these crops is somewhat missing because the October government shutdown caused two reports to be skipped. Does anyone remember that fiasco?

So is this going to lead to record yields? Rather than giving my own off-the-cuff prediction on that, I would like to see the data … but the USDA will not report on projected corn and soybean harvest until their mid-July report. What about crop prices? A quick glance at the futures shows new crop beans over $12.30/bushel and new crop corn over $4.30/bushel … certainly not the levels of years past but not as bad as some had predicted. Those corn prices are about equal to the break-even prices University of Illinois predicted last November, but the bean prices are above the break-even prices … so farmers may make a little money this year after all.