John Hennenfent is starting another harvest season at Munson Hybrids in Galesburg on Monday. The longtime seed corn grower is about two weeks ahead of schedule. Drought and heat pushed up the calendar.
"This year, we've got neighbors that have harvested 250 or 300 acres of corn already," he said. "It's not even September yet."
The fall ritual is getting a summer start. Seed growers normally begin harvesting before other grain farmers. But the 2012 growing season has been far from normal.
Timely isolated showers helped his Galesburg field to look better than some nearby farms. They expect to harvest about 70% of their target. But there are still problems.
Hennenfent showed a sample of ears from his nearby Abingdon farm.
"There's a lot of places that are missing kernels," he said.
While this may be an early harvest, it could also be one of the toughest. Farmers are getting a true look at the damage brought on by extreme weather.
As Hennenfent watches his first load of corn, he thinks about the impact from hot weather. It came during the crucial pollination time. That damaged his corn crop even more than drought.
"These ears are just poorly filled," he said. "They should be much longer."
Corn travels along a conveyor belt from high above the farm. That's where seasonal workers start a month-long project. They're sorting each ear before the drying process.
"Our industry somehow has the ability to make sure there's enough seed to get every acre planted," Hennenfent said. "But it may not be the first choice hybrid that guys want."
The extreme weather will force Munson Hybrids to import more corn from South America to make up the difference. That will likely drive up seed prices next spring.
As 2012 challenges continue into harvest, John Hennenfent is thinking about next year.
"Growers are really looking for a normal year just to have a good crop," he concluded.
A good crop that's running short this year across the region.