Dry Years Still Tell Stories

Chance to gain valuable information for future use.

It may look like searching for a silver lining in a very dark cloud, but Dave Nanda insists it's legitimate. The Corn Illustrated consultant and president of Bird Hybrids, Tiffin, Ohio, contends that while farmers in areas hit hard by drought will suffer on yield, which he hates to see, it's actually a good year for a researcher trying to study hybrid performance or even trying toe valuate how well certain production practices might work on various farms.

"It's tough on farmers, but it's actually beneficial to researchers, at least to a point," he says. "Why? Because it sets one extreme on the response curve. We will now know what happens in a very dry year. Since they don't happen that often in the central Midwest and eastern Corn Belt, it's actually a valuable opportunity to see how various hybrids react when rainfall is scarce and temperatures are high."

Agronomists sometimes issue warnings in yield like this, especially if plot yields are low in a certain area, to be careful about what you do with the data. They caution that just because certain hybrids of certain practices perform a specific way in an obviously dry year, it doesn't give insight into what those hybrids or practices might do in an average year, or even a wet year.

Nanda doesn't dispute that finding completely, but the does believe the sharp observer can pick up useful information from this type of season. First and foremost, he needs to record name and contact information of cooperators, so he can follow up with the same producer on the same location in better crop-producing years.

One thing a very dry year supplies is a look into how hybrids handle stress, Nanda says. Even then, side-by-side comparisons at the same location are best. In a season such as this one, timing of rainfall can be as important as how much rainfall actually arrives. If hybrids are at different locations, saying they were both 'stressed' may not be particularly meaningful, if the rainfall pattern there was different.

"What we'll have after this year is answers to questions about how hybrids and practices react in very dry, warm years," he notes. "No two seasons are the same, but we will at least know what to expect in a dry season."

As of August 17, based on Data since August 1, the 2007 may wind up as only the night in the last 35 to end up above normal on temperature and below normal on rainfall in the same season in Indiana.

In five of those eight years, corn yields fell from August estimates through final yield estimates by USDA. Dry, warm summers, especially during the critical period of July for corn, are not conducive to big yields, and nearly always decrease in yields before final yield estimates are issued.

TAGS: USDA
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