Our area of North Central Illinois received somewhere near one tenth of an inch of rain the morning of June 11th. Not nearly enough to make a difference in the ongoing dry spell that’s morphing into drought, yet a windshield survey across LaSalle and Bureau Counties makes me think the crops are grateful for the relief from desert-like humidity, wind, and unrelenting sunshine.

Other areas of Illinois have been drier than we have, for a longer time. I’ve seen some comments recently on social media and other places asking how much longer the crops can last under these dry conditions. How long will they be able to stay alive? We all want a definitive statement: “if we don’t get rain by x, crops are going to die.”

This takes me back to my days as a young consultant and agronomist.  Back to 1988, a once in a generation drought that is seared into agriculture’s memory along with 1934, 2012, and many others.  I remember taking calls from two brothers almost every day without fail wanting to know how much more their crops could stand.  “How long can this go on?”

I didn’t have the definitive answer for them then, but i told them each day that it would be fine for a few more days. They didn’t want an agronomic answer as much as a reassurance that there would be a tomorrow.

I don’t have a definitive answer today, 35 years later, either.  What I know is that seed companies and plant breeders have done a great job of selecting for traits that allow crops to be more efficient with water usage and protect themselves in these conditions.  I feel soybeans and corn exhibit actions such as leaf curling and transpiration slowing much earlier than they did in the past. Plants are much better able to protect themselves earlier in the game than ever before. This translates to crops withstanding drought conditions far longer than I’ve seen before.

So, if you’re asking, “how much longer can these crops go on?” I’d answer longer than you’d expect, so just hang in there. It’s going to rain again.  It always has.

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About the Author: Kevin Nelson

Kevin Nelson is a certified crop adviser (CCA) and 4R Nutrient Management Specialist (NMS) serving the ag industry in north-central Illinois. Nelson received his CCA certification in 1994 and is a Senior Agronomist with Prairie Agronomics, his independent consulting firm. Nelson has a strong background in soil fertility and precision agriculture, and he is passionate about providing information and advice to help growers be more profitable and grow better beans.

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