It still takes ’til July to make an Iowa cornfield stand up & look good


COOPER, Iowa, July 3, 2019 — It’s amazing what the first few days of July can do to the Iowa corn crop.  Six days ago, on June 27, 10-year-old Natalie Towers walked with her little brother Noah to the edge of one of their grandfather Doug Lawton’s cornfields, and she was taller than the corn was.  On Tuesday, July 3, Natalie stood in the same spot, and the corn had grown two feet! 

“Knee-high by the 4th of July” was the measure of a good corn crop decades ago, before the development of hybrid corn.  Today, farmers want it to be “at least head-high by the 4th of July,” and the 2019 corn of Doug and Karen Lawton — our great friends and neighbors here in west central Iowa — measures up.

Lawtons in cornfield 6 - CROPPED.jpg

That’s a good looking cornfield that farmers Doug  and Karen Lawton and their granddaughter Natalie Towers, of Jefferson, were standing in on Wednesday, July 3, northeast of our town of Cooper.

They both had smiles on their faces when we got together Tuesday for our traditional holiday photo session. The cash corn price right then at Landus Cooperative in our county seat town of Jefferson was $4.24 per bushel — “up 75 cents to $1 per bushel from when we planted it,” Doug said.  And soybeans, a lot of which were planted late, were $8.14. 

“Most of that price rise is weather,” Lawton continued. 

The field we were using for the photos was Hoegemeyer Hybrids No. 8104, which Doug planted on Saturday, April 20. 

“Since I planted that, we’ve had 13.2 inches of rain,” he said, while consulting his daily records on his cell phone. “That’s way above normal for this period.  We had 9/10s of an inch those last few days of April, 8.8 inches in May, and 3.4 inches in June.” 

Doug & Karen Lawton and granddaughter Natalie Towers in field.JPG

You can see how thick and lush that corn is in this close-up. The Lawtons have planted about 850 acres of corn and about the same acreage of soybeans.

Tuesday afternoon, July 2, brought a violent storm that dropped 1.8 inches of rain on a 200-acre cornfield in Greenbrier Township, four miles west of the Lawton home place, and “knocked down about half the field. I decided not to check it for a couple days, and just hope that the stalks weren’t broken and will straighten back up.”  Wednesday afternoon brought another wild thunderstorm across the area, and the Lawtons received 2.1 inches.

“We got the corn planted in a pretty timely manner, but then it got off to kind of a slow start because it was pretty cool and wet,” he said. “But with the heat of the last 10 days to two weeks, and now these additional rains, things look pretty good.” 

That’s even true for the soybeans, most of which were planted late in our neighborhood. “I planted my first beans on the 3rd and 4th of May, then I was off until May 16 because of rain,” Doug said. “I got one day of planting in on the 16th, then was off until June 2.  I finally finished the beans on June 6.” 

The beanfields looked almost stunted until the recent heat came, but many of them now actually are “knee-high by the 4th of July.”  Around here recently, they’ve also had the largest flock of butterflies we’ve ever seen munching on them.

Noah & Natalie in field on June 27.jpeg

Two photos here will show you how quickly the corn is growing on this holiday. This photo of Natalie Towers and her 2-year-old brother Noah was taken on the edge of a field last Friday, June 27.

Natalie Towers by cornfield on July 3.JPG

And when Natalie stood in the same spot six days later, on July 3, the corn had grown two feet and was taller than she is.

Farmer Lawton, 64, is tending his 41st crop.  It’s nice that it’s looking pretty good right now, because it’s following four consecutive years of bum prices. 

Complicating things additionally are the unresolved trade squabbles with nations that have previously been great customers.  Those have brought American farmers “Trump Bump” support payments, which have helped some on soybeans but are too small to help much on corn. 

The crops are out-performing the diplomats, that’s for sure. 

“So there’s just a lot of uncertainty,” Lawton concluded. 

Farmers who’ve been at it as long as he has are well-acquainted with uncertainty. 

The lesson of this Independence Day might well be that a good measure of political independence could really help them.

Lawton corn in 2013.jpg

Let’s be grateful. This is how the Lawton corn looked as July 4, 2013 arrived. That’s a 4-year-old Natalie Towers on the left with her cousin Maggie Nailor, of Indianola.

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