This year, the figure was 72 percent in Illinois as of Monday. Rain and light snow fell in parts of the state later in the week.
The USDA still expects a 12.9 billion-bushel crop, which would just miss the 13 billion-bushel record in 2007.
Base on those projections, the corn still left in Illinois fields amounts to about 557 million bushels — roughly 4 percent of American production — still clinging to stalks.
“That’s a big chunk of corn,” said Bruce Babcock, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University. “That’s enough, if it didn’t get out of the field, to kind of affect supply and demand.”
But he and others are optimistic that that won’t happen.
Prices are nowhere near highs of a year or two ago, but they’re still enough to motivate farmers to push into muddy fields as soon as they can. The quality of the corn still in the fields, primarily in central and northern Illinois, is beginning to drop because of moisture, said Dennis Bowman, a crop expert with the University of Illinois Extension Service.
“Most of it’s starting to go out of condition pretty fast where you’re starting to see the ears drop and stalk strength go down,” he said. “The stalks are falling over.”
Once corn is on the ground, as sometimes happens amid strong winter winds, it can’t be harvested, Bowman said.
Some elevators are far behind on drying corn, prompting some farmers to consider hauling their wet crop to barges along the Illinois River where they’re penalized about a dollar of the roughly $3.75-a-bushel market price, according to Monty Whipple. He farms in Utica, about 90 miles southwest of Chicago.
“It gets to be which is going to be the worst situation — taking the discount or not getting your corn out,” said Whipple, who finished harvesting his corn this week. “I think at this point farmers are worried about the weather.”