Farmers will soon be out in their fields looking for some signs in their corn plants which will indicate whether their corn harvest will be good. One indicator is whether the plants are “knee high by the Fourth of July.”
But wait. We are shucking and grilling sweet corn for the Fourth of July. Obviously the plants are more than ‘knee high’ if we are enjoying corn now, right?
Well, July is a great time of the year for summer fruits and vegetables like sweet corn and peaches, making for some awesome cook-outs. However, that old saying, “knee high by the fourth of July” refers to field corn, not sweet corn!
In fact, 99% of the corn you see in the United States is field corn. This is the kind that can be made into livestock feed, ethanol, manufactured goods such as crayons, lotion and boxes, and a food ingredient in the form of corn cereal, corn starch, corn oil and corn syrup and much more.
In the past, this saying was realistic, as farmers could expect a lower yield if the field corn had not yet grown up to their knees. Nowadays, this may be a bit deceiving.
Farmers are always subject to Mother Nature. However, thanks to advancements in seeds, farmers are now less subject to her wrath. Yes, I mean genetically modified seeds when I say ‘advancements.’ Thanks to them, seeds are more drought tolerant, more insect repellant, faster growing and other, what I would call, awesome characteristics.
What would have stunted the growth and taken a toll on yields in the past now doesn’t phase the corn plant. And thank goodness, because ‘perfect’ planting conditions don’t exist.
Obviously the plants can’t survive a drought like the one in 2012, but they can at least make a stand.
This year, in Illinois, we had knee high corn in early June because we were able to get the seed into the ground. Now, that’s not the only thing that contributed to its good looks. Warm days and timely rains are helping Illinois corn look fabulous, even over our heads by the Fourth of July.
While this saying isn’t a good indicator of plant health or yields for farmers anymore, expect for people to keep saying it for years to come.