Corn Harvest Has Begun

— Written By and last updated by Tamara Carawan
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combine harvesting corn

The month of August typically marks the warmest temperatures of the year, along with the start of the annual corn harvest in Pamlico County. Corn is an important NC crop used to help feed our large livestock population. While NC only ranks 19th in the United States in corn production, corn holds the second largest acreage (~17,000) in Pamlico County.

Corn is a unique crop that requires warm temperatures, consistent moisture, and adequate fertility to reach optimal yields. Corn plants go through several stages of maturity that are linked to accumulation of warm temperatures. Corn seeds require soil temperatures of about 50 degrees Fahrenheit before germination will occur. Cool weather at the start of planting season can delay emergence, which can reduce yields from the beginning of the growing season.

Corn plant growth stages can be defined as vegetative (V) and reproductive (R). Vegetative stages follow emergence (VE), with each new fully developed leaf with a visible collar referenced as a growth stage (V1, V2, etc.). Surprisingly, the corn ear that will later be harvested for grain, begins its development at a very early growth of V5-V12. At this point, the small developing corn ear is contained within the stem of the plant, and is slowly beginning to set the number of kernel rows (even number of rows around the corn ear). Modern field corn hybrids typically only produce one harvestable corn ear. While the corn plant is capable of producing numerous ears, most of the plant’s energy has been bred to favor a single ear development to maximize yield.

Later, as the plant matures through growth stages V12-R1, the number of kernels along the length of the corn ear are set. Stress, such as drought, heat, excessive rain, or lack of adequate nitrogen, will greatly reduce the length of the ear. This is why farmers must supply plants with sufficient levels of nitrogen fertilizer and maintain a weed free field. Without these inputs, the plant may still develop, but the corn ear will be greatly reduced in size, resulting in a low number of harvestable kernels.up-close of corn silksDuring the reproductive stage of development, weather stress, such as drought and high temperatures, can also affect pollination. Corn plants have male (tassels) and female (corn ear silks) flowers that have a narrow window in which they are both present and receptive to reproduction. Lack of water and high temperatures can result in male flowers (tassels) shedding pollen early and over a shorter period of time before enough silks are present and receptive. This results in unpollinated corn kernels, and less harvestable grain.

corn cobs with different pollination

Unfortunately, 2022 has been a very difficult year for corn grain production. Prolonged periods of drought and high temperatures have severely reduced corn yields. While some fields in Pamlico County may record average yields, many will be far below. Even if a farmer takes every precaution and maintains his crop with constant vigilance, mother nature ultimately dictates the final outcome.

As corn harvest begins in Pamlico County, please take time to reflect on the unique plant that is corn and the difficulties our farmers face with its production. 2022 will be a trying year for many farmers, as record high input prices (fertilizer, pest control, fuel) and unfavorable growing conditions will result in significantly smaller profit margins and potentially shorter supply. If you would like to learn more on corn production in North Carolina, please visit the NC State Extension corn portal.

For questions related to corn production or other agriculture related topics, please contact Daniel Simpson at 252-745-4121 or