Corn Dries Up, Even As Farmers Try To Combat Heat

The heat and drought that brought much of Colorado Springs into danger has also hit the Midwest. Temperatures broke 100 degrees in the Great Plains, and the heat and lack of rain is endangering what was expected to be a bumper crop of corn. Host Scott Simon speaks with Tim Lenz, a farmer in central Illinois.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The heat and drought that brought much of Colorado Springs into danger has also hit the Midwest. Temperatures broke 100 degrees in the Great Plains, and the heat and the lack of rain is endangering what was expected to be a bumper crop of corn. Tim Lenz is a farmer near the town of Strasburg in south central Illinois, where he grows corn and soybeans. Mr. Lenz, thanks for being with us.

TIM LENZ: Thank you.

SIMON: What's it been like there for the past couple of weeks?

LENZ: Well, looking to the sky for rain basically. It's been dry. It's amazing the crops have hung on as well as they have. We've actually been dry since April.

SIMON: What happens to the corn when this happens?

LENZ: Well, it's shorter than normal. It's pollinating or going through its reproductive cycle where it's trying to put on an ear. And it's probably five to six foot tall, where normally it would be eight to ten foot tall. And so it is shorter. We still could have had a good crop. We planted early. But, again, we were dry in March. You know, normally we're muddy in March but we were dry in March and then now it's just every day withering a little bit more.

SIMON: Now, let's understand this: you planted early because the winter was relatively mild for the Midwest.

LENZ: Exactly.

SIMON: And also you were hoping things would be, if you please, into production, agriculturally speaking, so you could escape the heat that might come in July.

LENZ: You're exactly right. Usually, we're pollinating, say, July 10th, you know, as kind of an average. And our Julys and Augusts tend to get hotter and dryer, and this year we were set up well to beat that. But, you know, everything is about a month early.

SIMON: And, Mr. Lenz, I mean, this is your livelihood. This must have you worried.

LENZ: Yeah. We do have crop insurance. It's like any insurance though - you're never made whole. You never want to use the insurance. But it does provide a baseline to at least maybe cover some expenses.

SIMON: May I ask, Mr. Lenz, what kind of yield are you expecting from your crops this year?

LENZ: Well, it's amazing stuff has hung on as long as it has. But it's not looking like it's going to rain this weekend and we're just so dry, can't get anything going. If it would rain this afternoon, I'm guessing maybe 120, 130. But we're scheduled to have 100 degrees, you know, every day for the next week here. So, it's going to get real serious.

SIMON: But you were expecting a couple hundred bushels I gather?

LENZ: Yeah, exactly. I mean, that's pretty much our goal. I think now, if it was perfect from now on, I think we're down to 120. If it doesn't rain in another week, I think we're looking at probably 50 an acre and go down from there, the longer it, you know, doesn't rain.

SIMON: Yeah. Mr. Lenz, I don't want to make your problem sound like our problem, if you please, those of us who are consumers. But can I ask, do you expect this - because corn is a commodity in so many food products - do you expect this to affect the price of food?

LENZ: Actually, this year, not as much. Maybe in the past. And one of the reasons being is it is raining north. It looks like I was going to have a crop. You know, northern Illinois is going to have a crop. Minnesota has been getting plenty of rain. So, on the production side, there's still going to be corn. Not saying that companies won't take advantage us and raise prices and increase their profits. But the facts, I don't think it should affect a whole lot.

SIMON: Yeah. The bottom line of your operation seems to be: you could lose half your corn this year.

LENZ: Oh, I could lose, yeah, more than that. I'd say we've come close to losing half of it now. You know, and every day it doesn't rain we're going to lose more. So, yeah, some places are going to have some corn. We just happen to be in a spot that hasn't caught rain.

SIMON: Tim Lenz, who grows corn and soybeans in a farm near Strasburg, Illinois. Thanks so much. Good luck to you, Mr. Lenz.

LENZ: I appreciate it. Any time.

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