Corn and visitors (copy)

Visitors admire a young crop of corn on eight acres being cultivated behind Culpeper's Carver Center on U.S. 15 in early June.

Readers know that weather is a regular topic addressed in this space, one of the uncontrollable factors facing farmers, even those who grow indoors.

This statement on the indoor production impact by weather may come as a surprise to some who learn that greenhouse growers are also driven by the weather. Heat and cold are controllable, but stress their systems, requiring added heat in winter and added ventilation and even cooling investments in summer. But, the real stress comes to those growing outdoors all of the time, our traditional grain and livestock farmers, our vegetable growers, our greens industry producers.

I have to admit of learning recently the big differences in weather just 10 or 15 miles apart from west to east along a dividing line approximately in the middle of Culpeper County. While the western section has had rain generally, the eastern section has not.

A visit to crop fields in the east tells the story well. Corn is aborting production most notably in the shallow soils and the shallow sections of fields with deeper soils. Imagine looking down from the air, a reflection in the crop growth is a mirror image of underlying soils. Shallow to rock in some places means the crop above will quickly suffer drought impacts when rain does not come in time and when extreme heat saps away any moisture left.

Corn grown under these conditions has several outcomes. Early corn will see a yield decrease as it has pollinated and has progressed toward filling an ear. The later-planted corn is just now pollinating and this critical process is stopped by drought and heat. This means little to no grain production will occur unless rain comes right away.

Salvage efforts are underway with early harvest of corn silage taking what there is, making feed for cattle dependent upon this important resource. Livestock producers who grow crops usually have two choices for their crop. They can cut for grain or feed. The feed option is their only choice under current conditions with their corn crop stopping progress toward grain fill and with the fodder brittle.

The grain producer with no livestock has only one option: To wait it out. But, the end result is becoming apparent and the fate of grain crops will soon be decided. As stated, if planted early, there will be a yield, but reduced; and if planted later, a total loss is possible. Rain soon may turn the tide for late-planted crops. We will see.

As we consider our farmers’ fate, be they indoors or out, let us realize their risks in producing products we simply go to the store to buy. As we ride to town to buy food or flowers, they stay in place, rooted to their investment, waiting out mother nature or taking action to get ahead, to stay ahead, or to make do with what they have—their plan B always at the ready, and sometimes even a plan C is put to work.

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Carl C. Stafford, a certified forage and grassland professional, is the senior extension agent in Culpeper County with the Virginia Cooperative Extension.