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From the Rows - Western Tour - Chip Flory - Day 1

August 21, 2012
By: Chip Flory, Pro Farmer Pro Farmer Editorial Director

From the Rows - Chip Flory - Day 1 Western Tour

Day 1 of the Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour is in the books... and it was exhausting. And disappointing.

We knew it wasn't going to be good... and it wasn't. But it was even worse than I expected. It may not have been as bad as everybody on Tour expected, but it was P-E-W-R... pewr. (Say it outloud and you'll understand.)

I left Sioux Falls and headed straight south, which was headed into the worst of South Dakota's 2012 corn and soybean growing conditions. Growing conditions north of Sioux Falls have been better than south of town, but that doesn't mean conditions are even close to "good." My route today pulled an average corn yield out of South Dakota that was close to 60 bu. per acre. But, that average included a zero corn yield and one at 7 bu. per acre. These were obviously some of the worst South Dakota corn yields I've seen in the state since we started the western Tour in the late 90's.

That's not to say we haven't seen bad crops in South Dakota before. We have... corn yields south of 100 bu. per acre are not good and we've seen plenty of them on dryland corn in the state. But we haven't seen them with the consistency that we saw them this year. That's what's really troubling about the South Dakota corn crop.

I pulled all my South Dakota samples out of crop district 9. That is the most heavily sampled crop district in the state and it's the most-concentrated area of corn and soybean production in the state. If crop district 9 in South Dakota isn't producing a "good" crop, it's likely the state average won't be "good" either. If the corn yield potential in crop district 9 is "poor," odds are the state yield will be poor, too.

Let'sstart with soybeans:

Beans are not good. Last year, the average pod count in a 3'X3' square was about 1107. This year, the average pod count was 584.93 -- down an astounding 47.1% from last year and down a touch more than that from the three-year average. Normally, this is where I would argue that a smaller pod count don't necessarily mean the yield will be smaller. The ability to plump up bean size at the end of August is one of those factors that can result in a "surprise" yield for soybeans. This year, I don't think there will be any surprises. What we've got on the bean plant for pods is what we're going to have... there won't be any pods added by an unexpected late-August rain. And to realize the yield that's represented by the pod count, it needs to rain now. The average size of the bean will only shrink from this point forward unless it starts to rain now.

Corn isn't good either. In fact, it's the worst South Dakota corn crop I've seen since we started running a western leg of the Midwest Crop Tour. Where did the corn crop lose yield in South Dakota? Let's break down the data. The average ear count in two 30-foot plots (total of 60 foot of row) was just 52.13, down 37.6% from year-ago. That's also down 37% from the three-year average ear population for South Dakota.

Several things came into play on the sharp reduction in ear counts from last year and the three-year average. But one of the most common was a "stacking of the leaf nodes." Leaves unfurled so closely together that they basically suffocated the ear shoot. I stripped some of the plants down leaf by leaf and I eventually found a tiny ear that was hugging the stalk. This ear was a mutant... only about 2 inches long, normally curved along the stalk and covered in green silks. It stands no chance of making a single kernel of corn.

Another problem with ear counts was stalks that shot an ear, but the ear simply didn't pollinate. We count only the ears that will make grain... but we count ears that will make even a small amount of grain. It's easy to tell... grab the ear with a tight grip and you can feel the kernels through the husks. If the ear failed to make any kernels, the "ear" feels like rolled-up tissue paper. We saw way too many of those "ears" today.

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