HARTFORD CITY, IND. - Across a wide stretch of Midwestern farms, sweltering temperatures and a dearth of rain are threatening what was expected to be the nation's largest corn crop in generations.
Already, some farmers in Illinois and Missouri have given up on parched fields, mowing them over. National experts say parts of five corn-growing states, including Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, are experiencing severe or extreme drought conditions. And in at least nine states, conditions in one-fifth to one-half of cornfields have been deemed poor or very poor, federal authorities reported this week, a notable shift from the high expectations of just a month before.
Crop insurance agents and agricultural economists are watching closely, a few comparing the situation with a devastating drought of 1988 while some farmers have begun alluding to the dust bowl of the 1930s. Far more is at stake in the coming pivotal days: With the brief, delicate phase of pollination imminent in many states, miles and miles of corn will rise or fall on whether rain soon appears and temperatures moderate.
"It all quickly went from ideal to tragic," said Don Duvall, a farmer in Illinois. "... Even if it starts raining now, there will not be that bumper crop of corn everyone talked about."
Some experts sound less pessimistic, saying the fate of the nation's corn crop, the world's largest, cannot be known until later in the summer, after pollination, when it is clear whether kernels or empty spaces fill the ears of corn and whether enough ears appear at all. They note that the driest, hottest conditions have steered clear of some key corn states, including Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and the western region of Iowa.
NEW YORK TIMES