The Mississippi corn harvest was completed in early October and Erick Larson suspects the 2012 crop will be a record-breaker.

“For the most part we were blessed with very timely rainfall mid-season for the dryland corn,” says the Mississippi Extension corn specialist. “The thing that helped across the whole state was cooler than normal temperatures, particularly at night, during the early reproductive stages.”

Mississippi’s corn was much earlier than usual “and that helped on when those reproductive stages occurred relative to what they’ve been in the last few years. We were way ahead of schedule in terms of corn development.”

Unfortunately, the welcome rainfall was not across the entire state. “As you go farther north, or northwest, in the state it was much drier during the early part of June. That manifested in much tougher growing conditions through early July when a lot of the yield potential was made.

“Closer to Memphis and the dryland crop from Tupelo north produced yields that tailed off compared to those farther south.”

Arkansas corn  

In Arkansas, Jason Kelley, Extension corn specialist, also has a “nice, happy story” to tell about the 2012 crop.

“The latest USDA estimate bumped our state average to 177 bushels per acre,” says Kelley. “That’s 8 bushels more than our previous record in 2007.”

2012 has been “one of those years where, for the most part, everything came together for us. It’s really rare to have great yields and great prices at the same time. Some growers may have sold their corn a little early but they made so much more yield than expected that they still were able to take advantage of the high prices.”

Where they had the water when it was needed, “most growers had the best corn they’ve ever had,” says Kelley. “In some instances I heard ‘I didn’t know my ground had the capability to produce such high yields.’

As in Mississippi, Arkansas producers were able to get their corn planted very early. “It’s kind of odd that 2007 – when we had our previous record yields – we had a big freeze in the spring,” says Kelley. “Barring that freeze, it turned out 2012 was similar. Both years we had really a warm, relatively dry March and corn went in early. Stands were very good.

“This year, corn planted the first of March – even in February, for some – came up and never looked back. We never had big, cold rains that can set a corn crop back.

“That shows me that first 30 days is very important. There’s no doubt that things turned off dry later in the season. However, the potential for the crop was set at the front and, if we kept watering, the yields were maintained.”

Typically, Arkansas corn silks the first week in June. This year, “we were 10 days earlier than that. I had some corn silking on May 20.”

And the bumper crop combined with law Mississippi River levels did cause some storage issues. “When the river was so low and they couldn’t load barges, storage was a problem,” says Kelley. “Things backed up in August when harvest was full-bore. When you look at the calendar, it seemed we got through corn harvest really quickly. But at the end, things slowed down quite a bit because lines backed up. There was just so much more corn going into the system at once.

“The guys that have bins filled them up. That’s one long-term investment that sure made sense this year.”

There were some scattered areas in the state with high corn borer numbers. Overall, though, the insect pressure was less this year than in 2011.

“Southern rust came in like it normally does,” says Kelley. “But the dry weather helped slow the progression of the rust. So, the problems with diseases and pests were less than in previous years.”

Kelley sees a continuing bright future for corn in the region. “We’re so happy with the corn yields – I think that’s true across the Mid-South. Now, the question is: can we do it every year? If we continue to get good March and April conditions we sure can. But the weather has to cooperate -- Mother Nature dictates a lot of it.

“One grower told me in 2011 just across the turn-row his corn was some of the worst he’s ever had. This year, with the same hybrid and managed the same, that field was the best he’s ever had.”

If corn prices stay high and input prices “don’t get out of hand, it wouldn’t surprise me if we have record corn acreage in 2013. This year, we had about 690,000 acres of corn – about 90,000 more than we’ve had at least in the last 50 years.”

Next year, Arkansas could have 750,000 acres, says Kelley. “It may be more than that if we get the right planting window. Farmers are looking at corn hard, understandably.”