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COLUMN: Red corn puts producers in the red

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By David Harrison

 Corn plants in many fields have turned red and that is not a good sign. The red color is coming from a build-up of sugar in the leaves and stalks. The build-up of sugar is a result of too few kernels being developed on the ears. That, of course, results in greatly reduced yields and income.

During the process of plant growth and development, a corn plant produces sugar through photosynthesis. That sugar is used to build new plant parts, to fuel growth and development, and to help produce seeds. Each plant will produce the sugar necessary for expected yields. When those expected yields don't happen, the sugars remain in the leaves and stalks and, eventually, turn the plants red to reddish-purple. Therefore, red corn plants are a red flag http://www.agry.purdue.edu/ext/corn/news/timeless/PurpleCorn2.html that seed development has gone wrong.

This season, a lot of corn reached full height, or close to it and looked relatively healthy from the road. But, much of that corn tried to pollinate when temperatures were above 100 degrees. Heat stress during pollination was the primary culprit of red leaves in these fields.

In some fields, the corn made it through pollination, but the kernels did not make it through early seed set and aborted. In those fields, kernel abortion led to the red leaves. In either case, poor pollination or kernel abortion, the producer is left with low yields.

Some fields of corn did not turn red, but just dried up due to the extremely hot weather and drought, particularly in June. These plants are also pretty much barren of grain and will also not produce acceptable yields.

Corn yield statewide is now projected at 65 bushels per acre, less than half the normal yield. County yields are expected to be extremely low as well.