From the Rows with Chip Flory
What a day on the third early-morning-get-up-and-get-rolling day of the 2011 Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour. It finished with a bang... but started on a very somber note. I'm not kidding... here's why.
I had wheels spinning at 6:00 this morning (actually, yesterday morning). That's because we had to drive 25 miles north of our overnight night stop in Nebraska City to find a place to cross the Missouri River. Normally, we just hop on Highway 2 just outside of the hotel, turn east and cross the river while looking at some of the most productive ground in Nebraska and Iowa in the Missouri River bottoms. We couldn't do that today because Highway 2 is closed... and for good reason. From the Nebraska side of the Missouri River over to the Loess Hills of Iowa (look it up... seriously!), water was covering a few thousand acres of farm land. So, we had to drive the 25 miles north to cross at Plattsmouth on Highway 34.
As we crossed the river bridge (after paying the $1.25 toll), we got into the river bottoms and saw grain bins with water standing three rings up on the side of the bin; we saw farmsteads circled by flood waters that still have current moving over their cropland; and we saw a real problem along the Missouri River.
Once we got across the river and over the Loess Hills, we turned south to head to the southwest corner of Iowa. (Seriously, we drove 25 miles north at 6:00 this morning to turn back south and drive 55 miles before we started to turn east for 120 miles before we finally turned north to head to Spencer, Iowa. Wow! Who's running this thing! Oh... and then we had to get north of Spencer into Emmet County, Iowa. That means I was in the southern most counties of Iowa today... and the northern most counties in Iowa today. Again... who's running this thing! Sorry for the long divergence there... let's get back to heading south...)
Okay... so we're heading into the southwest corner of Iowa where we saw the absolute worst hail damage I've ever seen... any where. This is the 19th Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour... and I went on four tours before we started running it. That means I've been on 23 crop tours. I'm 46 years old... so for half of my life (are you kidding me!!!!!!!!!!!?!?!?!?!?!?!) I've been on crop tour during the third full week of August. What I saw today in SW Iowa was sobering. It's hard to believe a storm could roll thru with that kind of power and cause that much damage in just a couple of hours. Tens of thousands of acres are impacted and some (more than some, really) will see absolutely zero yield. Those will be "new" Failed Acres on FSA Certified Acre report when they update the file in September.
Okay... on to the numbers. We did the three western crop districts in Iowa today. We were in other crop districts and the eastern Tour started to pull samples from Iowa today, too. But, the results we saw today are final results for Iowa crop districts 1 (northwest), 4 (west-central) and 7 (southwest). Well save 7 for the end... that's where all the hail damage was.
In crop district 4, scouts on the western Tour saw a corn crop that generated an average yield that was up 2.8% from last year. The reason for the increase was easy to identify. Contrary to what we saw in South Dakota and Nebraska, the ear count in Iowa Crop District 4 was actually up from last year... and it was up enough to justify the increase in yield (99.68 ears in 60-foot of row last year; 101.12 ears this year). The average grain length in Iowa crop district 4 this was 6.72 inches, compared to 6.35 inches last year. The average number of kernel rows around the ear this year was 16.11, compared to 15.94 last year. The only thing knocking the yield back from last year in district 4 was the row width, which widened from last year's 29.95 inches, to 30.21 inches this year.
In crop district 1 (northwest), scouts saw a corn crop that generated an average yield that was up 3.4% from last year. When we announced that tonight, a "buzzer" went off in the crowd that seriously questioned the increase in corn yield potential from last year. That's because this year's ear count was 102.93 in 60 foot of row, down from 103.74 last year. That was partially offset by a slightly more narrow row width: 30.27 inches this year compared to 30.29 inches last year. The big difference in the crop this year was in the grain length. This year, scouts measured an ear that averaged 6.43 inches. That was up 6.3% from the 6.19 inches measured last year. That's more than enough to support the 3.4% increase in the calculated yield for crop district 1 in Iowa.
The final district to talk about is 7 -- that's where the Missouri River has stolen a lot of good corn production ground in the bottoms and where a hail/wind storm last week ruined what was going to be a good year for many southwest Iowa producers. The average corn yield in Iowa crop district 7 was just 143.19 bu. per acre, down about 18% from last year.
The story on soybeans is the same as it has been on the entire western Tour. We've got a bean crop that is mostly disease free and it doesn't have much, if any insect pressure. All the bean crop needs now is another rain. If it can get it to make a big bean in the pod, then we're looking at a good bean crop in western Iowa.