A Publication of WTVP

I haven’t had to mention the “D” word in any written columns lately, but it looks like it’s time. What had been a regional or somewhat isolated drought in the Corn Belt this spring has grown into a much larger, widespread pattern of dry weather throughout the Midwest. Pending a hurricane coming up through the Gulf of Mexico, forecasters indicate the dry weather has a good foothold on Corn Belt acreage. (The Corn Belt includes the major corn-producing states here in the Midwest—Missouri, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, etc.)

I suppose a major clue to the hot, dry summer was experienced this winter, as it was very mild with only a couple of light snowfalls. Throughout Illinois, farmers were very optimistic this spring with the corn and soybeans planted early, and moisture supply in the topsoil was excellent to get the plants off to a great start.

The hot and dry weather pattern began in the southern part of the Corn Belt (southern Indiana, Illinois and Missouri) and migrated north. The last widespread rainfall we had in Illinois was a three-to-five day period at the end of April and beginning of May. Since then, rain patterns have been sporadic and isolated. Consider yourself fortunate if you received some timely rains this summer.

We will have a crop this year in the Peoria area, although yields will be lower than what we’ve had in recent years. That is not the case in some southern sections of the Corn Belt, where the corn crop will be little to nothing. The dry weather played a major role, but the most significant factor was the untimely heat.

Corn has a window of approximately 10 days to pollinate. During pollination, millions of tiny pollen grains are produced and shed from the tassel at the top of the corn plant. Some of these pollen grains fall on the silk emerging in the mid-section of the plant. These tiny grains travel down the tube of the silk and attach to the developing cob, hence the beginning of a kernel of corn.

A combination of factors at this critical stage deterred the pollination process in southern Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky. These factors were: intense and persistent daytime heat, (100 degrees for several consecutive days), warm nights, during which temperatures only dropped to the mid-70s; little to no morning dews, which would have given the plants a much-needed refresher; and the dry weather. Under this intense scenario, corn plants did not pollinate in these areas of the Corn Belt, which is why you’re hearing about farmers chopping or disking their cornfields.

What does this drought mean to you as a consumer? In the short term, grocery prices should remain relatively stable. In processed foods like packaged cereal and bread, the major expenses are the labor and petroleum-based steps for packaging and transportation. The actual farm commodity (corn, soybeans, wheat) in the ingredients of any given grocery item is a small percentage of the cost. In the case of meats, there may be more livestock brought to market due to the drought in the short term, which could keep grocery prices steady. Next year is more uncertain.

The United States is a broad and diverse land. Farmers grow crops and raise livestock from the east coast to the west coast, from Florida to Minnesota. Last year, Texas experienced a major drought—this year, it’s our turn. iBi