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Published September 29, 2009, 06:15 PM

First frost hits corn crop

Tuesday morning’s temperatures reached down into the danger zone for corn crops along the Red River Valley and only time will tell for certain whether there was any frost damage.

By: Matt Bewley, Grand Forks Herald

Tuesday morning’s temperatures reached down into the danger zone for corn crops along the Red River Valley and only time will tell for certain whether there was any frost damage.

Farmers in the northern portions of the Upper Midwest have been keeping their fingers crossed, hoping their late-developing corn crop would mature before the first hard frost. But Tuesday, several areas reported temperatures below freezing and, with wind chill, as low as 25 degrees. The temperatures lasted one to two hours.

“It looks like we did escape a killing frost,” said Tom Lilja, executive director of the North Dakota Corn Growers Association. “It needs to be 28 degrees for four hours for it to totally kill the crop.”

In the fields

Effects on area corn crops are mixed. Producer Kim Swenson said his fields north of Stump Lake in North Dakota are fine.

“We did escape the frost pretty much,” he said, adding that he has heard of some hard-hit fields to his west. “One guy I talked to, north of Devils Lake, had 30 degrees, which would stop the growth a little. But with corn, it takes more than that to kill it. The cold was pretty short-lived; it wasn’t all night.”

To his east, near Larimore, N.D., grower Jay Nissen, president of NDCGA, says the early signs in his fields indicate that there was some damage, though the corn typically won’t present symptoms right away.

“In looking at the soybean leaf tissue already, it was a fairly hard frost,” he said. “I would say there is some damage.”

The damage will take 24 to 48 hours to show on the corn plants.

“Forget the temperatures, the plants will tell you what things look like in just a couple days,” he said.

Change-ups

It’s been a tight squeeze all season for corn growers, who typically need 85 days to 90 days for their crops to mature enough for harvest.

A very wet spring kept most in the area off their fields, delaying planting for four to six weeks, while others were delayed into mid-June. Their concerns were increased when July and August came and went without the usual stretch of hot, sunny days.

Experts began saying the corn was three to four weeks behind. Some growers said their corn crops would not have time to reach maturity, as had happened last year when corn fields all over the Northern Plains were left standing through winter.

But then September came and provided unusually warm weather. Soil moisture was hold-ing up and plant growth accelerated. Farmers began to hold out hope again.

The topsy-turvy nature of this year’s corn crop is not lost on Lilja, who recalls an early Au-gust meeting with growers.

“I had a couple farmers from north of Jamestown tell me, at that point in time, that their corn had absolutely no chance of making maturity,” he said. “And in the last two weeks, they actually think that they will get to physiological maturity.”

Home stretch

Nissen thinks that, despite Tuesday morning’s cold, corn crops in western Grand Forks County probably will end up in good shape.

“There’s going to be odd fields that would be affected by the frost, but there’s many in western Grand Forks County that would have at least 90 (percent) or 95 percent of their yield potential there,” he said.

Around the state, Lilja thinks the corn crop will be nearly as good.

“Most of the guys that I talk to . . . their corn is actually getting to be in that late dent to half-milk line stage,” he said. “The heat the last two weeks really helped out, so we don’t think the yield losses will be much over 15 percent.”

Swenson doubts he will be combining corn for at least three more weeks, and Nissen is predicting it will be Oct. 20 before growers north of State Highway 2 will begin to take off their corn.

“There is a lot of crop to be harvested besides corn before farmers will turn their attention to that harvest,” he says.

Weather forecasters are calling for above-freezing temperatures for at least 10 days.

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