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June 13, 2012

Midwest Soils Are Currently Dryer Than Normally in mid-August

As the U.S. corn crop approaches its critical time for ear development and pollination, many farmers are very concerned about the shortage of moisture in the topsoil and the subsoil. The principal area of concern is the central and southern Corn Belt including the states of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas. Scattered showers moved across the region earlier this week, but they were not heavy enough to reverse the overall drying trend.

An estimated three-quarters of the topsoil and subsoil in the principal corn and soybean region is considered dry with only 15% considered normal and 10% considered wet. As an illustration of just how dry the soils have already become, the soils are dryer on average than during the third week of August, which is the driest time for Midwest soils. Having the soils this dry so early in the growing season is very unusual.

The current situation is exactly the opposite of what farmers experienced the last two springs. In the springs of 2010 and 2011, a lot of the Midwest had saturated soils until later in June when they started to dry out. One of the problems with the corn crops in 2010 and 2011 was that it had a shallow root system when a period of excessive heat moved in during the month of July causing pollination problems and subsequently disappointing corn yields.

The situation now is that we have extremely dry soils in many locations which is increasing the moisture stress on the corn crop on a daily basis. If the moisture stress is not relieved very soon, the size of the ears could be smaller than average and there could be significant pollination problems for the corn crop as well. One thing we can already say for sure is that the margin for error has already been greatly reduced. The corn crop in the dryer areas cannot afford to miss any rainfall event going forward.