When I was a girl we always judged the corn crop by the idiom "knee high by the fourth of July." With the variety of hybrid seeds used and the change in planting technology over the past few decades, this certainly no longer holds true. Every year my husband and I flesh out new ideas to summarize the height of the corn, but "eye high by the fourth of July" doesn't even apply anymore. In passing I heard a farmer call it "sky high by the fourth of July," and this year it seems to be the perfect fit.
While the fantastic weather this spring allowed for a slight jump on the planting season, the corn crop, which from afar looks beautiful and was even sprouting tassels at the end of June in some areas, isn't necessarily healthy.
I'm not a farmer, but live in a community surrounded by people who till the earth and harvest her goodies. I drive to work through a maze of corn and soy fields, and share my days with people that own family farms. In rural Illinois, we live and breathe the corn crop this time of year. And things are not necessarily looking good.
In some parts of the state, they are plowing down the fields
and designating the corn for silage. The drought has rendered the crop useless, and farmers are cutting their losses early and salvaging what they can. The 100+ temperatures that baked the earth in the Midwest in the first week of July certainly did not help the dehydrated plants produce healthy ears of corn.
Where the lack of rain hasn't done the worst damage, the bugs are creeping in and rendering the plants infertile. On a corn plant
each kernel on the ear is an ovule that gets fertilized when pollen from the tassel meets the silk that connects to the kernels and sticks out of the ear. Japanese beetles
love corn silk. These bugs are also having a prolific year — their early arrival on the scene egged on by the gorgeous weather in spring, and they are attacking the corn in many areas, feasting on the silks that are so vitally important to the development of the kernels. In normal seasons, these bugs aren't such a threat because they do not find their way out of the soil until after this important time in the lifecycle of the plant has passed.
For those of us who aren't working directly in the fields, the beetles have been quite the talk of the town as well. The crop dusters have been out in force, much earlier than usual, the small planes decorating the sky this year almost as noticeably as the fireworks we watched last week. Driving the back highways in this part of the state leaves your car so coated in these pests it would make a good beetle blind if there were such a hunting season. As one of my friends recently relayed, she thought she had driven into a sudden, intense hailstorm that lasted half her trip home. When she got out of her car she realized that the storm was really a swarm, and her car was coated in beetles.
Photo: Cy Tottleben