Knee-High by the Fourth of July or as High as an Elephant’s Eye?

Modern conveniences and technological advancements are transforming the agriculture industry. Everything from the equipment used to the farming methods applied has been transformed with new ideas. In spite of all the newness, however, farmers continue to preserve traditions. One way farm traditions live on is through sayings that are passed on from generation to generation.

Knee-high by the Fourth of July is a common saying for corn farmers throughout the Midwest. It serves as a way to measure the corn’s growth and compare it to previous years. Corn is expected to be knee high in late June or early July. When the saying proved true, it means that growing conditions have been favorable and farmers could expect a good yield that year. If the corn crop has not gotten off to a good start, it’s unlikely that you will have a high yield.

Corn growth cycles

Today’s agriculture industry has seen a slight change in growth cycles. Instead of “knee-high by the Fourth of July” the saying, “The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye” seems to be more accurate. The new phrase was taken from a song in the 1943 musical Oklahoma! With new corn breeds and varieties available, there are noticeable differences in the way the crop grows. Farmers can plant earlier because of tougher breeds and new kinds of seeds. Earlier planting means taller corn on July 4th. The expectation is now corn that is chest-high or taller.

Weather patterns

In addition to the breed of corn, the weather during the spring and winter months also affects growth. It’s not unusual for the Midwest to get hit with snowy winter weather in late-April or even early May. Some years are dry while others are flooded with rain. The unpredictable weather patterns across the Great Plains bring everything from cold, harsh winters to relatively mild ones. Farmers consider all of this as they prepare for planting. Weather conditions leading up to planting season help determine how high the corn will be in July.

Farm traditions

Even though the classic knee high rhyme is no longer useful, it’s still widely accepted as part of agriculture tradition. In the current corn growing industry, if your corn is only knee-high in early July, you’re in trouble. Don’t expect farmers to give up their knee high saying though. Corn breeds and growing seasons may change, but many farm traditions continue to be handed down between generations.