Local farmers say they will be lucky to make any money this year. The drought, and last week's heat have hit corn farmers hard. Many farmers in our area say they have already lost half their crop.
Throughout many corn fields in St. Joseph County farmers are seeing short corn stalks. Some of those corn stalks have tassels but no cob with silks. Both are needed for pollination -- to create the kernels on the cob. Farmers say the heat has confused the plant into creating tassels before their time.
"This is what you don't want to see right here," says Chad Zahner as he points to a corn stalk. The stalk, while taller than Zahner, has a tassel, but no corn cob with a silk.
Zahner's corn crop is doing better than most but that doesn't mean it is doing well.
"Nobody has ever been this long without rain. No one has ever seen it this dry," says Zahner.
Because of the excessive drought and several days of hot weather last week, Zahner estimates he has lost about 50 percent of his corn crop so far.
"Corn it needs this rain and it needs it now and bad," says Zahner.
Farmers say they haven't seen conditions like this in more than 20 years. And while technology has improved over the years, as seeds create more drought resistant plants, right now, all farmers really want to see is rain.
Phil Sutton, the Purdue Extension Educator for Agriculture and Natural Resources in St. Joseph County, says the drought is hitting the area's corn crop at the worst time -- when the corn is starting to pollinate -- and develop the kernels on the cob.
Sutton says he is seeing a variety of problems across the region:
--Stress from the heat is altering when corn plants are sending out their silks and tassels meaning plants aren't going to pollinate.
--Pollen can be killed in extreme heat like the temperatures we saw the first week in July.
--Stress on the plant can cause it to abort it's pollination.
"(The pollination) is going to make the kernels on the corn and when it is dry like this a lot of times you will see blotching ears (of corn), tips (of cobs) won't have corn on them," explains Zahner, "there may be corn on the bottom or there just might just be a cob. We don't know."
And many corn stalks around the area are showing "firing."
"It is tapping everything it has to survive," says Zahner.
"Firing" is when the leaves on the bottom of the stalk turn shades of yellow, orange and brown and start to dry up.
"It is burning from the bottom up," explains St. Joseph County farmer Ed Leininger.
Leininger is trying to combat the problems by irrigating his seed corn. He puts about 1,200 gallons of water on his corn every minute -- or about an inch of water a week. Leininger says he will still lose at least 25 percent of his corn crop.
And while farmers keep a close eye on the sky, they already know this year is a losing battle.
"We are going to work for free. We are not going to make any money," says Zahner, "the input costs are so high anymore, with fertilizers, fuels, stuff like that. It will take just about 2 years for farmers to recover from this and that is if we get a normal year next year."