Corn Crisis Possible from Building Drought, Heat

By , Expert Senior Meteorologist
June 28, 2012; 4:11 PM ET
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Building drought and waves of heat continue to raise concerns about the corn crop and other agriculture in the Midwest to the central Plains.

In most areas, the drought is currently not as bad as 1988, but the situation has the potential to reach crisis level in part of the Corn Belt with typically the hottest part of the summer ahead.

According to Long Range and Agricultural Meteorologist Jason Nicholls, "Rainfall will be spotty and stingy as waves of heat expand from the central Plains to the Tennessee and Ohio valley states into July."

The combination of drought and now heat is hitting the corn during the start of its pollination period, which is ahead of schedule by up to several weeks this year, due to warm weather in the spring.

"Essentially, if significant rain does not fall on the corn areas in severe drought over the next couple of weeks, yields could be severely impacted," Nicholls said.


Part of the drought area includes a large part of the corn belt.

According to the "Hoosier Ag Today," in Indiana, for example, as pasture conditions deteriorate, more operations were switching to feed hay and grain.

As the temperature climbs to extreme levels as it has already done over the Plains and will be doing over the Ohio Valley states in the coming days and weeks, more livestock will be under stress.

Temperatures surged to over 100 degrees Monday from Montana to Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas and reached the century mark in at least 19 states.

Near-100-degree heat is forecast to nose into the Ohio Valley for a several-day stint later this week into the weekend.

There will be a few clusters of thunderstorms rolling from west to east from the northern Plains into the Northeast through next week. Occasionally, a brief thunderstorm can visit part of the drought and heat area. However, it is not likely to be enough to bring lasting relief.

Similar to the summer of 1988, a large percentage of the spotty storms could bring little or no rain, but gusty winds and lightning strikes.

If the drought persists through July and into August, other crops, such as soybeans, could be seriously impacted.

Most of the rainfall will occur on the northern fringe of the drought area. For example, areas from northern Illinois to northern Ohio are more likely to have a brief downpour on one or two occasions, while areas in Arkansas may receive no rain at all during much of the next two weeks.

Fortunately, much of the northern part of the Corn Belt has been receiving rainfall on a more regular basis and temperatures have been much less extreme.

Evaporation rates of soil moisture in weather patterns like this, during late June and early July are on the order of 1/2 of an inch per day.

While we have not yet reached "cornmaggedon," the situation is likely to get worse over the next couple of weeks over much of the drought area and a large part of the Corn Belt, rather than better.

Interestingly, money saved by consumers during the warm weather this past winter could be gobbled up by rising cooling costs this summer over the Plains and Midwest.

The building drought may not only affect local economies.

Potentially higher food prices could occur should the drought expand or worsen and corn yields end up being significantly lower than original expectations.

Many food, feed and fuel-related items utilize corn.

Raw prices of corn could affect the balance of the crop being used for feed versus ethanol production. For example, from a business standpoint, if it is more profitable to sell the corn as feed rather than ethanol, growers are likely to make the switch, provided feed corn prices are higher than ethanol.

Most grades of gasoline today use 5 to 10 percent ethanol.

Any higher price of feed for livestock, such as chickens, could either be absorbed by producers or passed along to consumers of eggs, poultry, fast food, etc.

This story was originally published on June 19, 2012.

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