Knee High by the Fourth of July?

June 29, 2021

Kristin Lawson, Communications Coordinator

With Independence Day right around the corner, you’ll likely hear the saying “knee high by the Fourth of July”. If you take a look at the corn fields in my neighborhood, you’ll see that most are more than knee high by mid to late June! I hope that’s true for your crops too.

That makes me wonder where the phrase came from and why? Is it still an accurate way to measure the success of your corn crop today? Who’s knees are used as the guide and how tall are they? I did some research and found lots of history on this popular saying.

The corn at our Rushville, IN test plot is much taller than Max Marlatt. Photo provided by Brian Marlatt 6/29/21.

Where did it come from?

There are different theories on who came up with the saying “knee high by the Fourth of July”, or when it started. Some say the phrase began during the Colonial American days and it was originally “knee high to a man sitting on his horse, by the 4th of July”. Regardless of it’s origin, “knee high by the Fourth of July” is a popular expression that’s stuck around for years and it’s just something people say for fun nowadays.

Is it still accurate today?

According to BASF, “Years ago, knee-high corn in early July was thought to indicate high yields for the year. However, fast forward to the present day: Knee-high stalks in late June and early July signal trouble to farmers.” The Farmer’s Almanac explains why this popular phrase is no longer an accurate measurement: “Due to the advancements in agriculture, growing techniques, and disease and pest control, corn farmers can expect plants to reach 8 feet by midsummer, if growing conditions are good, according to the Iowa Corn Growers Association. Now, knee-high doesn’t quite measure up.”

What does 1st Choice Seeds know about it?

Knee high by the Fourth of July? The corn in Greeneville, TN is as tall as Curtis, and he’s 6 ft. tall! Photo provided by Holly Knoll Farms 6/21/21.

“I always heard this saying repeated by my Father and other farmers in the area. Never thought much about it since our corn was always much taller than that. But the thing I remember the most is during the droughts of 1988, 1993 and 2012 some of the corn was not knee high by the 4th. I was surprised by this since it was so rare.” – Blair Kramer, Production Lead

“I’ve always heard the saying, but never knew for sure what it meant. The way I understand it, if your corn is any less than knee high by the Fourth of July, it might not mature before the frost kills it. Down in Tennessee, our corn is always way more than knee high by the Fourth of July. My corn is about 9 feet tall right now. It was planted around the 10th of May and we’ve only had 2 inches of rain since then.” – Steve Miller, Seed Specialist