Corn Palace leaders hope for better crop season to replace worn down murals

Due to the severe drought last summer that stifled corn crop production, the Corn Palace murals haven't changed for two years. City leaders are desperate for better weather to welcome new murals.

The Corn Palace decorated in the 2022 mural theme "Under The Big Top" has remained the same for the past two years due to the 2022 drought.
Sam Fosness / Republic

MITCHELL — After going a year without enough corn to decorate Mitchell’s biggest tourist attraction due to the 2022 drought, the Corn Palace is desperate for a successful crop this year.

The heavy snowfall Mitchell received this winter improved drought conditions, which has Corn Palace Director Doug Greenway hopeful there will be enough corn to decorate the iconic murals in the 2024 theme.

“We just don’t want to be short. We hope we have a good growing season and have plenty of corn that comes in and is ready to go,” Greenway said.

Last year’s drought took a historic toll on Corn Palace farmer Brett Lowrie’s crops. The amount of corn he managed to produce during the dry spell was enough to fill up only a handful of bins, making it the first time Lowrie wasn’t able to harvest enough corn to decorate all nine murals along the landmark building.

In his second year as the farmer responsible for providing the corn that decorates Mitchell’s biggest tourist attraction, Brett Lowrie is getting the hang of it all.

To redecorate the murals each year, it takes roughly 350,000 ears of corn. According to Greenway, they received about 25% of that amount last year.


As a result of the corn shortage, Greenway had to make the tough call to keep the circus themed murals along the Corn Palace for another year and hope for a better crop this upcoming fall.

Although the circus murals have managed to remain fairly in-tact after two years of being in the elements, Jeff Hanson, the lead decorator, said they’re reaching the end of their life cycle.

"We desperately need corn this year. These murals will really start to lose their color and look rough if they have to stay up any longer,” Hanson said.

Jeff Hanson, Corn Palace maintenance supervisor and lead decorator, right, nails corn on the front mural with decorator Austin Kleinsasser, left, at the Corn Palace.
Mitchell Republic file photo

The need for a healthy supply of corn isn’t solely for the exterior of the building to welcome the Famous South Dakotans 2024 theme. Some murals on the interior of the building also need to be touched up, Greenway explained at the early May Corn Palace Entertainment board meeting.

“We’ve got some fixing to do on the murals in the arena. Basketball fans will sometimes pick away at them,” Greenway said of the murals that are situated on the north and south ends of the basketball court, which are arm’s-length from fans standing on the bleachers. “Our visitor’s booth is looking in tough shape, and we need to replace the corn on that.”

Hope rests on Mother Nature

The 58.7 inches of snow that doused Mitchell this winter improved drought conditions, bringing the Mitchell region out of severe drought status that persisted throughout much of last year. Despite receiving nearly double the amount of average snowfall this winter, the latest U.S. Drought Monitor showed all of Davison County was in a moderate drought, as of Friday.

Drought status aside, Hanson said field conditions are in much better shape now than they were at the same time last year. It has Hanson optimistic of receiving an adequate supply of the 12 colored corn variations needed to create the designs on the murals.

A sizable amount of the Palace corn has already been planted on Lowrie's Mount Vernon area farm, Hanson said. With the growing season on the horizon, Hanson is praying it will be a good one.


“We have already had some decent rains in the Mount Vernon and Ethan area where our corn and other stuff we use to decorate grows. They had about 4 inches of rain recently,” Hanson said of the rural towns near Mitchell. "We need some timely rains for the corn this summer."

2023 corn palace mural mockup.JPG
The 2024 Corn Palace mural mock-ups.
Williams, Cassie

Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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