By Sarah Einselen
---- — Once, there was last year. The sweltering heat withered the local corn crop to an average 108 bushels per acre in Cass County, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. Crops farmers bemoaned the parched ground's effect on their yields, and cattle and hog herders worried that feed from the shriveled corn would sicken their livestock.
Then, there was this year.
The USDA last week forecast bin-busting corn and soybean yields for 2013, in what the Purdue Extension noted was a start contrast from the crops report a year ago.
In the annual August crop production report, the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service projected a national corn crop of 13.8 billion bushels on an average 154.4 bushels per acre — a forecast no less than 28 percent above last year's yields.
That yield would even beat the previous record of 13.09 billion bushels of corn set in 2009, the Purdue Extension noted.
"To say what a difference a year makes is a huge understatement. It's a big difference this year," said Jay Akridge, Glenn W. Sample Dean of Purdue Agriculture, at the Indiana State Fair on Monday, where a panel of agricultural experts analyzed the USDA crops report. The Purdue Extension organized the panel.
Farmers this year got a comparatively late start to the planting season, with half of the state's corn crop planted after the middle of May. Corn development is one or two weeks behind schedule, according to Bob Nielsen, a Purdue Extension agronomist specializing in corn. However, a temperate, sometimes wet spring and summer helped the corn pollinate under little stress.
"The corn is looking pretty well," commented corn farmer Brad Plank, who farms full-time on about 1,100 acres in Deer Creek Township. "I went out and checked a few ears... and they were filled out to the tip."
Some two-thirds of the crop statewide is similarly healthy. It's rated good to excellent, a welcome sign this late in the season, according to Nielsen.
In the Deer Creek area and in other parts of the county, a severe windstorm in early July harmed some fields by snapping the corn stalks in two.
"We did have a little bit of what you call 'green snap,'" Plank said, referring to the wind snapping the corn stalks in half. "But overall it really depended on the stage of the corn."
The corn that had sprouted tassels and developed root systems fared better, he said, than crops planted later.
Some corn that was bent over during the windstorm has popped back up in surprising ways, another farmer commented.
Kory Wilson, who farms with his brothers on some 2,700 acres near Young America, said some of his family's crop is "still up in the air" after the windstorm.
Some of the corn didn't fully pollinate after the wind bent it sideways, he said, but "other than that it did bounce back better than I thought it would."
"Actually I think the corn looks better than what we anticipated," he added. Compared to the last four to five years, corn was planted later than normal, he said, but he thought drought years skewed that average.
"We've been pushing the dates earlier," explained Wilson.
While in past years the family has planted the corn around the first of April, this year it was planted about a month or five weeks later than that.
"I feel like we're back to almost a normal planting this year," said Wilson.
Just one thing's left to concern Wilson.
"We've not had the heat," he said. "The corn's there, but it might be wetter — there might be more drying cost."
He's also hoping good weather holds out until after the corn is reaped, "that we don't turn around and have issues with frost."
Economists figure after the harvest, corn prices are likely to dip, yielding lower farm incomes. However, while the bumper crop in Indiana and other parts of the eastern Midwest should offset some of the deficit in the drought-plagued Great Plains, Plank guessed many farmers, like himself, would put some of their crop in storage to sell at a later date.
"I feel the prices will dip this fall but they'll come back up next fall," he said. "A lot of guys are hanging onto it. ... The problem is the input prices were still fairly substantially high, and the prices you get out of the field this fall, they're not going to hardly cover your costs."
Wilson agreed, saying additional on-farm storage added within the last two to three years at the Wilson farm would allow him and his brothers to store corn as long as they needed to.
"We can either market it before the first of the year, or after the first of the year, or next July if we need to," he said.
Sarah Einselen is news editor at the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-732-5151.