The June weather pattern in Illinois was variable, and the month is ending with rainfall totals ranging from a little less than normal in parts of western Illinois to nearly double the normal amounts, with some totals as high as 7 to 8 inches, in parts of southeastern and northern Illinois.
While getting rainfall in June is certainly preferable to getting little or none as happened in Illinois in 2012, standing water and wet soils can badly damage a rapidly-growing corn crop. In June of 2010, 2 to 4 inches of rain fell during the fourth week of June over most of central and northern Illinois. With the crop planted early and developing rapidly under high temperatures, standing water resulted in serious and irreparable damage to root systems. This lowered yields in low-lying fields and parts of fields, even where rains fell later in the season.
When soils remain saturated for more than a day or two, the lack of oxygen causes nutrient uptake to slow quickly, and root tips start to die off. It helps that temperatures have not been above normal; cooler water carries more dissolved oxygen, and also slows growth and nutrient uptake. Also, plants during vegetative growth have much better ability to grow back damaged root systems once soils drain than do plants during or after pollination.
These factors, along with the very good crop color (which indicates good root activity and adequate supplies of soil N) before the rains in late June, point to good chances for recovery of crop yield potential in fields and parts of fields where the water is no longer standing. In the short run, plants may lose some of their green color before roots are fully functional again, but this will likely be a temporary condition. While many worry that any stress during mid-vegetative growth will lower yield potential, there’s not much evidence that a few days with reduced photosynthetic rates has much effect on yields, at least if this occurs more than a week before tasseling.
Regardless of how quickly the crop returns to normal after an event like temporary flooding, questions will remain about how standing water might affect the amount of nitrogen left in the soil to meet the needs of the crop. Warm, saturated soils lose nitrogen (as gas back into the air) through the process of denitrification. We do not think that such losses have been very large in most fields, given the temperatures and the fact that most flooding was temporary. In better-drained fields, denitrification would be less, but percolating water has probably moved some of the nitrate-nitrogen deeper, perhaps below the root system or into tiles lines.