What's Knee-High By July? Colorado Corn Is

Jul 4, 2013

This corn field south of Fort Collins is coming in nicely, at just knee-height.
Credit Luke Runyon / KUNC and Harvest Public Media

The old saying for corn growers is, you want the crop to be ‘knee-high by the Fourth of July.’ If that’s any gauge of success, this year’s crop is doing just fine.

The adage doesn’t always hold true.

Most farmers actually want to see their corn past their knees on Independence Day. This year Weld County, Colo. corn grower Chris Wagner is getting his wish.

“Right now we’re about shoulder high,” said Wagner. “So the corn is looking pretty good considering how crazy of a spring it was.”

The crazy spring brought late season frosts and snow storms to the cornfields of Colorado. In the corn belt states of Iowa, Illinois and Missouri, persistent rain showers, and the subsequent floods, pushed the planting season behind schedule.

In spite of those roadblocks, most of the nation’s corn crop is in decent shape. The most recent crop progress report from the USDA [.pdf] shows about 67 percent of the country’s corn is in good or excellent condition. That’s a marked change from 2012 when drought plagued the region. At this time last year less than half the corn crop was in good or better condition.

The stalk’s height is really only one way to judge the plant’s health. Compared to the rest of the country, Colorado’s corn is in bad shape. About 22 percent of the state’s corn fields are rated as poor or worse according to the USDA. As drought conditions worsen, the state’s vast agricultural areas are the hardest hit, with about 60 percent of corn grown [.pdf] in Colorado in swathes of land hardest hit by drought.

Corn prices have been on the decline recently, though slightly, but are still favorable. Which means Wagner’s corn should be lucrative, only as long as another adage plays to his favor.

“Just wait a couple hours and the weather will change. So it’s not in the bank yet,” said Wagner.

The ‘bank’ in this case is harvest time, which usually begins in early fall, finishing Mid-November.

If you’re really bored, you can literally watch corn grow right on your computer. The Colorado Corn Association has a “Corn Cam” where you can watch their backyard plots grow.