From the Rows
Here we go again! I meet 22 crop scouts in Sioux Falls, S. Dakota, tonight while Roger and Mark Bernard sat down with nearly 50 scouts on the eastern leg of the Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour. And (believe it or not) they are fired up to go out and take a look at the corn and soybean crops growing in the western Corn Belt. Quick conversations with scouts tells me they expect to see a good corn crop... but certainly not a great corn crop. They certainly expect to step into some great fields... and some very poor fields. The same is true for the soybean crop... although growers on the Tour this year are a bit pesimistic about the yield potential for the bean crop.
A lot of the conversation at the orientation meeting centered on the maturity of the crop. We know the crop won't match up to the last two years on the maturity scale. The last two years, we sampled from a crop that was dented across the Corn Belt. This year, we'll see some corn that has pollinated in the last ten days... and we'll see corn that's in the mid-dough stage. The group will be surprised if we see any corn that's in the dent stage.
And I explained a couple of important changes to this year's Tour. First, the corn yield calculation. I've explained a few times to Pro Farmer Members that we're making a change to the yield calculation for corn. The only reason we can make this change is because the new calculation uses the same data as the old calculation. That means I could recalculate yields from past tours using the data we've collected. All the media on both the eastern and western legs of the Tour have been briefed on this change and they understand the data from year-ago and the three-year average yields for each state and each crop district within each state has been recalculated using the new yield calculation. Therefore, the comparisons to past yields will be an "apples-to-apples" comparison.
Why we made the change. First, with the exception of Minnesota, the new yield calculation gives us a more realistic yield estimate for each state. That does not mean the "raw data" for each state should be considered a "final" yield estimate for each state. We know the calculation misses USDA's final average yield for each state... but we know by how much the Crop Tour yield typically misses USDA's final for each state. We call it an "historical error."
We've always tried to make this Crop Tour a very "transparent" event. We don't hide anything and anybody that wants to come on the Tour is invited. With that in mind, here is the average miss (2001-2007), or the "historical error," for each of the Tour states.
Ohio: On average, since 2001, the Crop Tour yield has been 4.72 bu. below USDA's final yield peg for the state.
Indiana: On average, since 2001, the Crop Tour yield has been 3.41 bu. below USDA's final yield peg for the state.
Illinois: On average, since 2001, the Crop Tour yield has been 4.29 bu. above USDA's final yield peg for the state. (We don't sample lower-yielding areas in far-down-state Illinois.)
Iowa: On average, since 2001, the Crop Tour yield has been 5.82 bu. below USDA's final yield peg for the state.
Minnesota: On average, since 2001, the Crop Tour yield has been 12.09 bu. above USDA's final yield peg for the state. (We don't sample lower-yielding areas further north.)
Nebraska: On average, since 2001, the Crop Tour yield has been 16.31 bu. below USDA's final yield peg for the state. Don't let that "big" historical error scare you. The consistency of the miss is exceptional. The reason the Crop Tour is that much too low is because we sample the dryland-heavy eastern areas of the state. We sample about 40% irrigated fields and 60% dryland fields. In reality, the state is about 60% irrigated and 40% dryland.
South Dakota: On average, since 2001, the Crop Tour yield has been 5.27 bu. above USDA's final yield peg for the state. (We sample a sliver of the state in the higher-yielding southeast corn of the state. The area we cover is Mitchell to the southeast corner.)
So... there you go. That's how to use the Crop Tour data. In Ohio, add about 4.5 bu. to the Crop Tour yield; in Indiana add about 3.5 bu. to the Crop Tour yield; in Illinois take about 4.3 bu. off the Crop Tour yield; in Iowa, add about 6 bu. to the Crop Tour yield; in Minnesota, take about 12 bu. off the Crop Tour yield; In Nebraska, add about 16 bu. to the Crop Tour yield; and in South Dakota take about 5 bu. off the Crop Tour yield to adjust for the historical error in each state.
At the end of the Tour, we'll also tell you the average yield of all samples collected on the Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour -- about 1,000 corn samples from the seven states. On average, since 2001, the average of the seven-state samples has been about 5.5 bu. above USDA's final national average corn yield. Again, the consistency in this historical error is impressive. And this is another reason we made a change in the yield calculation. The "old" Crop Tour corn yield calculation generated a seven-state average that was nearly 8 bu. below USDA's national average corn yield. That just doesn't make sense! After traveling through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, S. Dakota and Nebraska, there is no way we should have an average yield below USDA's national average yield. With the new calculation coming in, on average, about 5.5 bu. above USDA's final national average yield, we feel the new calculation gives us a much-more realistic average.
The "old" calculation made an adjustment for kernel size based on the average number of kernel rows on each ear. On the surface, that makes sense... until you realize bushels are determined by weight, and not the number of kernels or size of kernel. The "old" calculation "penalized" ears that had 16, 18 or 20 kernels rows at an increasing rate (the penalty was greater for a 18 k-row ear than it was for a 16 k-row ear). But... bushels are 56 pounds. So, penealizing an ear for a higher number of kernel rows (and assumed smaller kernels) seems to be an unnecessary step. Here's why: A 14 k-row ear with 44 kernels per row has 616 kernels. An 18 k-row ear with 44 kernels per row has 792 kernels.
Sure... the 792 kernels from the 18 k-row ear might be smaller... but those 792 kernels probably way just as much, if not more, than the 616 kernels from the 14 k-row ear. Because a bushel is determined by weight, it just makes sense to abandone the kernel-size adjustment of the "old" Crop Tour yield calculation.
Plus... the new yield calculation is, on average, more accurate.
Now... with all that said, it's important to remember the late development of the corn crop means we'll be sampling yield potential rather than actual yield. That means the "finish" on the crop from this point forward will be determining final yield. We will regularly update our yield expectations for key states and for the U.S. in the weeks after Crop Tour to reflect the "finish" of the crop.
Nothing has changed for soybeans --
For soybeans, we'll be calculating the number of pods in a 3-foot-by-3-foot square -- just as we always do. I know I can't "tell you" how to use the soybean data... you'll do with it what you will. But the way I use it is very simple: I look at the year-to-year trends in pod counts on a state-by-state basis to help me "zero-in" on the yield potential for each state. The pod count calculations tell us how much of the bean-production factory is up and running.
Thanks to some very important people --
Things are going to get very busy this week, and I know I'll forget to do this later so I'll do it now -- Thank you to all the scouts on the Tour. Without you, this Tour obviously wouldn't be possible. To everyone out there that has thought about coming on the Tour but just can't find the time to do it, talk to a scout to hear what they say about it. After you do, I'm sure you'll be able to find the time. And thank you to our new sponsors -- Pioneer and John Deere Risk Protection. They'll help Pro Farmer make the Tour more comfortable for scouts throughout the week and will be hosting banquet meetings at each overnight stop on the eastern and western legs of the Tour. So... thank you to Pioneer and JDRP.
That's it for tonight! Be sure to check back Monday night for our observations from South Daktoa and northeast Nebraska!