‘Knee-high by the 4th of July’ doesn’t measure up

Farmers have an old saying about this time of year: A healthy corn crop should be “knee-high by the 4th of July.”

But with this year’s cold, rainy spring, many Wisconsin corn farmers’ crops are all over the board, as farmers scrambled to plant their fields between rain showers.

Warrens farmer Tim Kortbein’s corn is just over knee-high. But the fourth-generation corn farmer says that’s not enough these days.

“Last year, it was about shoulder-high,” said Kortbein.


It’s weeks behind where it was by this time last year, thanks to a colder, much rainier spring.

“Yeah, we had to jump around a little bit and look for fields that were dry to plant because the fields were really wet this spring,” said Kortbein.

Fellow farmer Grant Moseley, who lives just a few minutes away, had to give up on one of his fields.

“I meant to plant this field clear to that tall grass at the edge of the swamp. I do every year. But when I got over there, I started getting stuck with the tractor, so I just quit,” said Moseley. “It’s just too wet.”

UW-Extension Agriculture Agent Steve Huntzicker says this kind of stop-and-start corn planting throughout the season has been common across the state.

“Producers were able to get into certain fields but some areas were very wet and others more dry. So you see some differential in height of corn, areas that producers went back in and replanted as well. So that’s going to lead to some variability come harvest time in the fall,” said Huntzicker.

While Kortbein is no stranger to the whims of Mother Nature, he’s craving some stability after last year’s drought and this year’s over-abundance of rain.

“Managing the extremes is getting harder and harder with years like last year and this year. It’s nice when there’s moderation with heat, cold, wet and dry. But we’ll just take what we get and make the best of it,” said Kortbein.

Normally, Kortbein would harvest his corn starting around mid-October. This year, it could be well into November before he’s able to start harvesting. He said he’s crossing his fingers there isn’t early frost.