MANDAN, North Dakota — A field of corn north of Mandan, North Dakota, serves as a perfect illustration of what the drought of 2021 has done to crops and what the potential could have been with some moisture.
The field is under pivots, but like many such fields, several rows on the end miss out on the irrigation water. The stalks are short, some barely reaching knee high, and the rare ears of corn that come out of them stick out at odd angles. Some ears even seem to have grown out of the top of the diminutive stalks. Many of the tiny cobs did not fill with kernels to the ends. Most stalks have nothing on them at all and had already browned by Aug. 31 when the Agweek Corn and Soybeans Tour came through the area.
But walk in the corn just a little ways, where the end gun of the pivot hits, and Koenig points out a "night and day difference." The stalks gradually become taller, and the cobs are long and thick, with kernels filled to the end. It much more closely resembles a normal year of corn.
"Probably 5% of the corn is under irrigation, and that all looks really good," Koenig said. "The (growing degree units) were there. There's going to be some really nice irrigated corn."
That irrigated corn could yield 180 to 200 bushels per acre, he figures. That's a much different picture than the dryland corn.
"Most of it is getting silaged due to the fact that the nitrates are so high on it," he said.
The fermentation process involved in silage reduces nitrate levels, while baling the tiny stalks could lead to overly high nitrate levels that could hurt or kill livestock. Even so, Koenig said there is a small amount of corn being baled, too.
A normal grain yield in the area is 120 bushels. If there is grain corn good enough to be combined, Koenig estimates the very best stuff will run 30 to 40 bushels per acre.
"If it does that, that would be really good," he said. "I would say most of it, that will be combined, more like that 20, though."
Another factor that seemed to help some farmers was using planters that regulate the amount of force used to put seeds into the ground. With the ground already drought-hardened in the spring, some planters were not set with enough force to get the seed in far enough to hit moisture. Koenig said newer planters equipped with precision tools to regulate that continually helped get the seed into the right place.