Knee-high on the Fourth of July

Colleen Kottke Associate Editor
Now Media Group

Throughout her childhood, Mary Schneider remembers racing her siblings out to the cornfield on the Fourth of July to see if the corn had reached the iconic benchmark.

Corn that passed the kneecaps by early July was a tried and true predictor of a good harvest, according to Schneider's grandfather.

'Sometimes my mom would come out with the camera to pose us among the stalks of corn,' the Dane County woman recalled. 'There were a lot of pictures of corn that barely reached our knees and then some images of corn towering over our heads.'

Schneider says the old rhyme from her childhood still echos through her mind as she drives past cornfields on her way to work. But with today's improved genetics, the relevancy of the old farming adage has faded.

Greg Blonde, UW-Extension Crops and Soils Agent for Waupaca County says advances in corn genetics has allowed farmers to give their corn crop a head start by planting earlier, often in less than ideal conditions.

'The old saying was you had to wait for the soil to warm up before planting. But we know through research that waiting for soil temperature isn't the best approach,' said Blonde, adding that planting dates in Wisconsin are typically late April to early May.

Blonde said advanced genetics has allowed plant breeders to build pest control right into the plant itself to create a natural resistance.'

UW–Madison and UW-Extension corn agronomist Joe Lauer says the corn crop in the southern half of the state appears to be doing well. However, southwest and northeast Wisconsin have experienced significant rainfall and on some occasions, flooding.

'Northern Wisconsin had some issues with planting and Nitrogen application but overall we're in pretty good shape,' Lauer said.

According to the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association, Wisconsin corn growers harvested 505 million bushels, or 162 bushels per acre last year. Lauer says its too early to tell if farmers will equal or exceed that harvest.

'Things look good right now, but that can change quickly. We'll know more once tasseling and pollination have occurred,' Lauer said. 'So far, we've had an early planting, which is positive.'

Around the state

Corn growth in Grant and Lafayette county appears to be track, says UW-Extension Crops and Soils Agent Ted Bay.

'I just asked some guys in our office what was the tallest corn they've seen so far (in Grant County), and their response was, 'six foot, starting to get over our heads'', Bay said.

That's good news for the two southwestern Wisconsin counties where farmers planted 166,000 acres or corn in Grant county and 143,500 acres of corn in Lafayette county last year.

As of June 26, corn condition was 86 percent good to excellent, according to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service . Crop condition reporters in Eau Claire County noted that weed pressure in some cornfields has become an issue thanks to ample moisture.

Rain across the state has also contributed to the delight or consternation of farmers, depending on the county. In the northern part of Clark County, excesscorn and soybeans, said UW-Extension agent Richard Halopka.

'In Clark County some corn will be taller than knee-high by the 4th and then some was just planted in the last two weeks,' Halopka said.

Conversely, corn fields in Dodge, Adams, Marquette, Waushara and Jackson counties received a quenching rain last weekend, helping to relieve dry conditions.

'Timely rains are key to most of this region and last Saturday's rain was a crucial one as corn was starting to curl in many of the lighter fields across the county, and in high heat,' said Trisha Wagner, UW-Extension agent for Jackson County.

Grain vs. silage

Lauer says that corn produced for gain needs to be chest high and tasseling by July 15.

'If your corn crop is knee-high on the Fourth of July that is bad news for current practices on commercial production of corn,' Lauer said. 'Yield will definitely be impacted.

Blonde says earlier planting dates creates a wider window for grain crop heading to the maturity finish line before the first killing frost. The first killing frost typically occurs between Sept. 27 and Oct. 3 in central Wisconsin, Blonde said.

'If you're pushing the envelope (with a late planting) it can turn out to be a really bad year especially from a grain standpoint,' Blonde said.

As dairy herds continue to grow in size, Blonde said more producers are using more and more silage in dairy rations.

'We're seeing more hybrids developed for corn silage being planted,' Blonde said. 'Over the last 30 years I've seen more producers moving towards 100-day hybrids and beyond if the corn is being used for corn silage where there is no expectation of being fully ripened before being chopped.

'This gives producers a little more confidence,' he said. 'Hopefully as the season goes on, we will continue to see the crops progress. But Mother Nature always has the final say.'