July 24, 2012 / 5:59 PM / 5 years ago

TOUR-In Indiana's Putnam County, hopes dying for corn harvest

* Some Indiana corn fields likely to yield no grain

* Five-day crop tour moving into Illinois

* Rains trim gains in CBOT grains futures

By Karl Plume

MONTEZUMA, Ind., July 24 (Reuters) - On the western edge of Indiana, the Putnam County corn crop shows the effects of the worst U.S. drought in 56 years -- the plants failed to form ears and will likely go unharvested, the second day of a U.S. Midwest crop tour found on Tuesday.

The area has so far received none to just a quarter of its normal annual rainfall. Because of the heat and dry conditions, plants are stunted at around 3 feet, leaves are curled and brown at the edges and stalks are brown at the bottom.

Most likely, the plants are dying.

Crop scouts on the five-day MDA EarthSat crop tour did not stop to inspect the fields because crops were so poor it was assumed that farmers will plow them under.

The average corn yield in Putnam County last year was 142.4 bushels per acre, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.

The tour, which started in Columbus, Ohio, on Monday and will finish in Omaha, Nebraska, on Friday, was heading toward Illinois after scouting fields in Indiana.

The drought led USDA to slash its estimate of the U.S. corn yield estimate by an unprecedented 20 bushels per acre in July. It is expected to cut it further when it releases its August crop report, which will be based on a survey of farmers.

Analysts are expecting USDA’s August crop report to show that millions of acres of damaged crops will not be harvested this year, allowing farmers to collect on crop insurance.

The decline in the U.S. corn and soybeans crops has rallied prices to record highs at the Chicago Board of Trade, although rain this week in the northern and eastern reaches of the Midwest has trimmed some of the gains.

In Indiana’s Parke County, the corn crop was also in poor condition but somewhat better than that in neighboring Putnam County.

Plants were 4 to 5 feet tall, and only about 50 percent of the fields scouted in the area had no ears. But the crop showed signs of drought damage -- leaves were curled and brown and the fields were pale green instead of the usual healthy dark green.

The stalks were brown half way up, a condition called ‘firing’ in farming parlance. The plants were poorly pollinated, with the ears not forming kernels all the way to the tip.

Calculations based on inspections of fields in Parke County put the average corn yield at 121 bushels per acre, down from the USDA’s estimate last year of 148.6 bushels.

“This ground where they were looking, on a good year, is 200 bushel-plus,” said Stewart Major, who has farmed 2,700 acres of corn and soybeans for six years in Parke County. “It started losing yield around the first of July when it started to tassel. There’s 30,000 stand out there and only 20,000 have an ear now.”

“We got a little rain in the last week and it’s keeping some of it green. It seems to have helped but there’s 10,000 plants out there with no ear on them,” he said.

In neighboring Hendricks Country, calculations showed an average yield of 89 bushels per acre, down from the USDA’s estimate of 130.3 bushels.

Statewide corn yield in Indiana in 2011 was 146 bushels per acre, the lowest since 2003.

Indiana’s corn crop was rated only 7 percent good to excellent as of Sunday, down 1 percentage point from the previous week, USDA reported.

Reporting by Karl Plume, additional reporting by Michael Hirtzer, writing by K.T. Arasu; editing by Jim Marshall

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