Corn planted later was ravaged by Hurricane Irene and subsequently by a tropical storm. The difference in record-breaking corn and a crop devastated by high winds and torrential rainfall was planting date.

Perhaps more astonishing in the 2011 La Niña year, was the 288.5 bushels of corn produced by Jay Justice on his farm in Beckley, Va. Justice farms in multiple states in the Southeast, and his record corn crop in Virginia is more than matched at the other end of the spectrum by crop disasters in other states where he farms, and where the La Niña-influenced weather pattern produced terrible crops and in some cases no crops.

Florida State University Climatologist David Zierden explains La Niña and El Niño weather patterns:

“Ocean water temperature in a specific area of the Pacific Ocean affects global weather patterns. Warmer than usual water in that area creates El Niño conditions and typically wetter and cooler conditions across the lower one-third of the U.S.

“Cooler water temperatures, characteristic of La Niña, push thunderstorms westward and create drier and warmer conditions for the Southern U.S.”

Ronnie Heiniger is North Carolina’s corn specialist and a pied piper of sorts when it comes to helping farmers plan for the impacts of weather on which varieties of corn to plant and when to plant them.

Prior to each planting season he makes predictions on the weather in different areas of North Carolina and to a lesser degree in the Southeast.

Heiniger jokes with farmers about consulting his crystal ball to make weather forecasts.

In reality, he spends a lot of time studying weather history and analyzing recent weather patterns. His uncanny ability to predict the weather comes much more from long-term scientific studies than from divine clairvoyance.

Heiniger says 2010 and 2011, both La Niña years, produced similar results for corn in much of North Carolina, though both years were very much different in terms of weather.

“In 2010 we had some moisture at planting time and most growers were able to get their corn crop up and growing just fine. We went into the summer season with a little soil moisture, and as a result corn planted early did fine.

“Later corn that was subjected to heat and drought during the critical silking stage didn’t fare nearly so well.

“In 2011, we had no rainfall from January until the end of May, then we had a dry summer. Weather was as devastating to corn production in the state as it had been in 2011, but from a very different perspective,” Heiniger says.