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Corn crop behind schedule in Wisconsin

Posted at 6:35 PM, Jul 05, 2019

Corn farmers say they're well behind where they should be, and it could cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars.

This time of year is a big benchmark for corn growers. An old adage, "knee-high by the Fourth of July," doesn't really apply to 21st-century corn growers. More science and advancements in technology have helped it grow a little faster.

"I change it to knee-high by the fourth of June," said Casey Kelleher, a grain farmer. "Out here, there's some stuff that's chest or shoulder high on me. It's coming along pretty nice."

But it's not the case for all farmers. The Wisconsin Corn Growers Association says only half of the corn crop in the state is good to excellent.

"Typically, we're in the 80 to 90% range," said Nicole Wagner, executive director of the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association. "Half the corn in the state looks really great. The other half, they're still trying to get what they can. They're out there spraying. They're doing the best they can with the crop they have in the ground."

Wisconsin is still in better shape than other states in the Corn Belt.

Ohio, Indiana and Illinois have fewer farms with good and excellent corn conditions. However, getting the crop in the ground has been the biggest battle.

More precipitation than normal prevented farmers from planting at their usual time. Over the last five years, about 90% of the state's corn crop has been planted by the beginning of June. This year, it was under 60%, and concerns about being knee-high by the Fourth of July have been replaced by just getting the crop in the ground.

As of Independence Day, only 96% of the crop is planted, which is 12 days behind last year. Corn emergence was reported at 87%, which is 20 days behind last year and the five-year average.

"Last year, I was wrapped up before the third week of June," Kelleher said. "Everything was growing so fast and so tall."

The farm Kelleher works on has about 3,500 acres. He says in a good year, they'll harvest about 220 bushels per acre. At a rough price of $4.35 a bushel, that yields more than $3.3 million. All of that could be in jeopardy if the crop doesn't catch up.

"Normally we start (harvesting) in mid-October," Kelleher said. "I'm sure it will be closer to November this year with as late as everything was."

All of this could have big impacts on field corn. While this corn isn't what you buy in the supermarket, it has a wide range of uses. It's widely used as livestock feed, in ethanol production and manufactured goods. So it could have a domino effect on the prices and availability of other goods.

"Normally we start (harvesting) in mid-October. I'm sure it will be closer to November this year with as late as everything was." —grain farmer Casey Kelleher

"A lot of this corn is going to end up going to feed for animals," Wagner said. "Dairy farms are going to have lower corn yields so they'll need some of the corn harvested as grain harvested as corn silage."

Wagner said this has also been the worst economic time in recent history for all farmers. Low prices for commodities out in the field put more of a strain on the farms because of high prices for supplies and equipment. She says they often look to just break even now. They will travel to Washington, D.C., next week to talk to Congress about ways to help farmers including Kelleher.

"Right now, we're working on trade issues because a lot of the corn grown in the U.S. is exported," Wagner said. "We're working on things with elected officials."