Corn Across the Midwest is Showing the Effects of Heat and Drought, USDA Report Finds

Sep 13, 2023

Dolf Ivener walks through one of his western Iowa fields, where many of the corn leaves have already turned from green to a dried-out hue of brown.

“Generally, this corn would be between eight and nine feet tall. And I would say right now that's, maybe, seven feet tall? So, it's probably two-and-a-half feet shorter,” he said.

Ivener tracks precipitation through a phone app and sees big variations between more than a dozen crop locations spread over several counties. Some of his farms received 21 inches this season, while others received around just 14 inches.

“And when you go out and look at them, it is glaring,” he said. “You don't need the smart device to tell you they didn't get as much rain.”

The recent record-breaking heat, paired with little to no rain, has impacted the corn crop across the Midwest. The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture crop report rates national corn conditions 53% good to excellent, down 5 points in two weeks. Farmers in parts of Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin are seeing the effects of hot temperatures; but Kansas and Missouri have the worst-rated corn with only a third reported as good to excellent.

Dennis Todey, director of the USDA’s Midwest Climate Hub, said the drought is having its biggest impacts on the heart of the Midwest, while things improve further east.

“Once you get over to Illinois, Indiana, and parts of Ohio and Michigan, they're starting to dry out more, but the conditions are not as bad. I think Indiana was actually going to be above average,” he said.

The hot, dry weather has sped up corn reaching maturity, with the USDA Crop report finding a national rate of 18%, double from the prior week. Todey said the crop is shutting down prematurely.

“It'll make for an earlier harvest season, so, there's one advantage that way. But there will be some yield loss and poor-quality yield because of this early maturity,” he said.


In parts of eastern and south-central Nebraska, he said there were fields that died by the middle of July. He said it’s the worst drought the state has seen since the 1950s.

“There's not a shortage of mental health issues in the farming community right now,” Hunt said. “They want to nurture their crop like they want to nurture their children and you don't want to see something you care about not do well.”

Looking ahead to next year, both experts say moisture is key for good results in the future.

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