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‘Knee-high’ no longer a Fourth of July standard

Published: Monday, June 30, 2014 8:32 p.m. CDT

GRUNDY COUNTY – Tom Nugent stood just outside his home, impressed.

“I’m looking at a field of corn that is as tall as I am,” said Nugent, who owns a 550-acre cornfield just south of Manhattan. His 600-acre soybean farm also is doing well, said Nugent, who serves as board president of the Will County Farm Bureau.

Nugent, like other farmers, would not likely be satisfied with corn that was knee-high by the Fourth of July. Nor will they have to be.

After many farmers experienced a late start to spring planting due to unusually cold, wet weather, expectations in the Midwest have improved – for the most part – for both corn and soybean crops.

The Department of Agriculture’s latest crop condition report from Monday rated 80 percent of Illinois corn as good to excellent, compared with 78 percent the previous week. The same report rated soybeans 74 percent as good to excellent.

Tasha Bunting, manager for Grundy County Farm Bureau, said that phrase would now signify that something’s wrong with the crop.

“Corn is definitely beyond knee-high. That’s something my grandparents used,” Bunting said. “The phrase was always the rule of thumb to gauge whether you would have a good crop this year, but now, with technological advancements and the ability to plant more efficiently, it’s really a foregone rule of thumb.”

A new phrase might be needed, she said.

“I heard someone say the other day ‘chest-high by the Fourth of July,’ ” she said.

Farmers aren’t out of the clear yet, she said, noting that with every planting season, conditions can turn on a dime.

“We don’t want the rain to quit. The most important time to receive rainfall is during pollination. That’s in the next three weeks or so,” she said. “The rain will allow things to bloom.”

Despite the positive report, heavy rains have been a problem for some, particularly when it comes to soybeans, Nugent said.

“If you drive around country roads, you can see these little ponds of water in the middle of the field,” he said. “If the water stands over the soybeans for longer than a day, it can ruin the bean. The beans will drown out.”

Corn growers, on the other hand, shouldn’t be too worried about the rain, Nugent said. The stalks are high enough now that they won’t be drowned out or damaged by heavy rains, he said.

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