What Does “Knee-High” by the Fourth of July Mean?

By: Maddie Cary, Michigan Ag Council Ambassador

You have probably heard the Midwestern saying “knee-high by the fourth of July” a time or two. What does this mean to the grower?

I am Madelyn Cary, serving as a Michigan GROWN, Michigan GREAT ambassador. My family farms in central Michigan, where we had some corn over my head by the first of July, and all of it was over knee-high.

Knee-high by the fourth of July means that if your corn is up to your knees or past them, your crop is on track for a successful harvest this year. Some years the corn is almost up to your shoulders, but on difficult years it is just knee-high. However, in today’s century with updated genetics and new technologies, it is rare not to surpass this saying.

From one side of the state to another, you can see cornfield after cornfield. The coolest part is they all grow at different rates. You can walk through corn that is ankle-high, knee-high, waist-high, and above your head all in the same day.

Farmers used this saying in the olden days to measure the success of the corn crop. It seems silly that we still hear this saying because the corn is almost always far above your knees by Independence Day. Technology has done wonders, like making this saying accurate most of the time. Technologies span from corn seed varieties that can stand up to weather stress to disease and weed control. 

There are circumstances where knee-high by the fourth doesn’t happen, like in the case when a field must be replanted. When a farmer replants, the crop they originally planted will not harvest to its fullest potential and would be better off planting new seeds. 

Farmers were blessed this past Independence Day. It was a day to look out on our beautiful cornfields and remember how far we have come. May the crops continue to flourish with hopes of good weather for the rest of the season.