From the Rows with Chip Flory
My favorite days on the Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour are the easy days. You know the kind... the sky is blue, the dirt is dry on top and the crops are coming in just about like I expect them to. Yep... those are the good days...
And that's pretty much the kind of day I had today. We'll start with soybeans. The Nebraska bean crop is mostly disease free with very little insect pressure. And with some rains going through the area tonight, most of the bean crop will have plenty of water to finish the season with a nice big bean in the pod. Throw in a pod count from the Crop Tour that is very similar to last year, and we're probably looking at a bean crop in Nebraska that will be very similar to what we saw last year.
Now... that's what I call a good day on the Tour!
And then came the corn crop. I spent the whole day in irrigated and dryland corn fields. We had the northern most route of the eight traveling through the southeast part of the state. We basically bounced off the south shore of the Platte River all day.
That means we started in some irrigated corn fields, but quickly ran out of the irrigated ground and got into dryland production. That partially helps to explain why I ended the trip today with a bit of disappointment over the corn crop we saw. And the reason for the disappointment is, very simply, ear populations. Ear pops in Nebraska over the two days of pulling 205 corn samples resulted in an ear count down 2% from last year. The straight comparison is valid because the row width narrowed a very slight 0.03% from last year. I don't want to make a joke out of this, but it is very difficult to make up for an "ear that isn't there" with increased grain length or a higher number of kernel rows. Ears matter most.
And anyway... ear length was down less than 1% from last year and the number of kernel rows around the ear was down less than 1% from year-ago. The combination of the 2% drop in ear counts, shorter grain length and fewer kernel rows resulted in an Nebraska corn yield down 2.9% from last year's Tour results.
USDA on Aug. 1 put the Nebraska corn yield steady with year-ago at 166 bu. per acre. (Now... stick with me on this.) USDA's 0% change is compared to a final yield last year that followed a very poor finish. The 2.9% drop in the Crop Tour estimate compares this year's Tour to last year's Tour that ran during the third week of August when the Nebraska corn crop had better yield potential than at the end of the year. So... USDA's 0% change and our 2.9% drop from last year are closer than they sound.
Nonetheless, the drop in ear counts can't be ignored. A lower ear population certainly suggests the Nebraska corn yield estimate should ease back a bit from the 166 estimated by USDA on Aug. 1. The "only" thing, in our opinion, that could put the Nebraska corn yield above year-ago now is kernel weight. If this year's kernels weigh 2.9% more than last year, USDA could be exactly right with its unchanged corn yield. That might not sound like much of an increase, but in a state that is 60% irrigated, that's a significant change in ear weight.