Chore time for me isn't what it used to be when I was growing up on our eastern Iowa farm, but taking care of two horses in the morning before I head in for work gives me a little time to think about the day ahead. Each morning, stop at this spot to get a feeling for the "tone of the day" - and some attitude about agriculture and the markets.
I was thinking…
... I know... it's been a long time!
We're done with the Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour for another year after meeting with 1,500 guests brought in by sponsors Pioneer and John Deere Risk Protection (JDRP) and pulling 1,060 corn samples and about 1,040 soybean samples from the seven Tour states. Since getting back, I've been a bit busy wrapping up Tour happenings, I got some beets canned and I even had a chance to stop by the Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa, after making a quick trip to Omaha.
I've been working on Pro Farmer newsletter today, but did find some time to browse the Crop Tour discussion threads. There are some excellent questions posted in the threads, and instead of just responding there, I figured I'd try to answer most of those questions in Chore Time. (I figure if they've got those questions, plenty of you have got the same questions.)
One thread was titled: "Not so Pro" Farmer tour results -- clever. "SDakotan" came up with that one, but didn't really make any comments about the Tour (in this thread), just gave an excellent summary of his yield expectations. (Still... I can take a joke and thought the "Not so Pro" was clever -- not the first time I've heard it, but still clever.)
In the thread titled "MN portion of tour," "dungbeetle" (do you think he picked that himself?) commented: "Notice how they didn't extend any farther north into MN besides just extreme Southern MN. The crops get much poorer in yield potential the further north you go due to dryness. The [I assume he means "They"... as in me] didn't want to expose the media to this."
We try to do the Tour as consistent from one year to the next as we possibly can -- and that means running through the same areas year to year. In Minnesota, the furthest north we run is Highway 212 (which I wouldn't call "extreme" southern Minnesota -- it's about even with Minneapolis). That gets us into the Dawson, Montevideo, Renville, Olivia, Hector, Glencoe areas. We've been running that far north since 1998 and we pull samples from every county south of that. The exception is we don't pull samples east of Rochester. We know there are plenty of corn acres north of the Tour area in Minnesota... just like there are plenty of corn acres north of the Tour area in South Dakota (I've said many times we sample just a "sliver" of South Dakota) and we don't get close to looking at the corn in North Dakota. But, we scout the same area every year to keep consistency in the data gathering. As I've told Pro Farmer Members -- and even Chore Time readers -- many times, those are the "swing acres" in Minnesota. When it's good north of the Tour, the state is typically very good. When it's not-so-good (like this year and like normal), that part of the state pulls down the average yield for the state. That's why in the Aug. 11 Chore Time -- a week before we left on Tour -- I explained that. I also included the perspective you should put on state yield estimates by including the "historical error" from the Tour. One reason the Tour on average since 2001 has measured Minnesota about 12 bu. too high is because we don't get into corn areas north of the Tour area. The important thing is we know we measure Minnesota about 12 bu. too heavy... and we can make adjustments.
And, there is no chance of hiding anything from the media on this Tour. They're everywhere, they're good and they ask a lot of questions about conditions we're seeing and conditions outside of the Tour area. We made special mention of conditions further north of the Tour area in Minnesota during at least two of our evening meetings -- in front of 250 guests in Spencer, Iowa, and in front of 350-plus guests in Austin, Minnesota. And... yes, dungbeetle, the media was in the room when we mentioned it.
"jabber1" countered in the next piece of the thread with, "They also didn't go very far south in Illinois." Again... as explained in an earlier Chore Time, we know the corn in southern Illinois is typically lower-yielding than in the areas we scout. That's why on average since 2001, the Crop Tour yield from Illinois is about 4.3 bu. above the final yield for the state. Again, we know that and can make adjustments. However, in the last two years (MUCH earlier maturing crops), the Crop Tour yield estimate in Illinois has been very close to the final for the state. The last two years also saw better-than-normal yields in far-down-state Illinois, helping to tighten the Tour yield to USDA's final yield estimate for the state. For perspective, we pull a sample from every county in Iowa (just the way the routes lay out) and the Tour yield for the state has been on average since 2007, about 5.8 bu. too high. And how far south do we get in Illinois? Carlinville is the furthest south "big town" we have to drive through on Tour.
"Agnut" (that's cool) also commented: "They apparently caught the best of Indiana. Yield looks thinner to me everyday!" That's right... we do catch the "best" of Indiana. Just as we've explained many times... we tend to catch the "best" of each of the three Tour states east of the Mississippi. But (do I have to say it again), we know by how much we typically "miss" each state and make adjustments when issuing the Pro Farmer crop estimates that takes things like the historical error into consideration.
"ronald" said: "You have to know that there was a big crop out there just not were you are. I am in North West IL. and they must have gone south of me. I hope I get that 166bu they say we have. DB you know they would find that big crop the price was going up not good." O.....kay -- I'll try a little interpretation here. Yes, we did travel south of Northwest Illinois -- that's the easy one.
"DB you know they would find that big crop the price was going up not good." Let's try this: "DB, you knew they would find that big crop. The price was going up and that wasn't what Pro Farmer wanted." I think that's what this comment meant. I'm not about to say we don't pay attention to market reaction when we're on Tour. However, it's awfully difficult to "fudge" numbers with this group of scouts. They do data checks on us all the time -- and even caught an error in one of our district numbers in Iowa (thanks Line, Jr.!) before it got spread too far around the markets. That's one of the reasons we invite everyone and anyone to attend the Tour. We've had scouts come on Tour with the attitude they were going to catch us manipulating Tour results -- but everything we do is as transparent as we can make it. If we were fudging, they'd catch us -- no doubt about it. But, that's not the reason we "don't fudge." We've said many (MANY) times the Crop Tour is the one thing Pro Farmer does for general consumption -- everything else we do here is for Pro Farmer Members. There's a long list of reasons we do this, but one of them is to encourage non-Members, media, even competitors (yes... some do come on Tour) to participate. Not only do these scouts bring great conversation, another set of hands for sample collection and insights the farming crowd probably wouldn't consider -- they also bring a healthy level of skepticism over what we're doing. In the end, that skepticism works to our advantage by helping to force us to keep everything we do for Tour out in the open.
"nblonigen" (no comment) said: "they dont take a yield check on a faild crop ,,,,, first it is hard to do ,, second the faild crops may not even be harvested ,, so when the final yields are only counted on harvested acres ,,, ,, that is how they come up with a higher average yield on harvested acres ,, the faild crop acres are listed as not harvested ,, also silage acres are not counted ,, so the harvested acres for grain is reduced from planted acres ,,, at the end of the year ,, but is not reported at this time of year ,,, so it is a false report ,, that is why the gov. report is always to high at this time of year"
Wow... where to start. Ummmm... let's start at the end. "Harvested acres for grain is reduced from planted acres... at the end of the year, but is not reported at this time of year. So, it's a false report." Harvested acres are reported at this time of the year. Obviously, it's an estimate from USDA. We use USDA's harvested acreage estimate when putting together the Pro Farmer crop estimates, but harvested acres don't impact how we take samples during Crop Tour. For perspective, USDA currently estimates planted corn acres at 87 million; harvested acres at 79.3 million. In fact, USDA did a special acreage resurvey this year ahead of the August Crop Production Report in an attempt to zero-in on planted and harvested acres. Normally, USDA will use the planted and harvested acreage estimates from the June Acreage Report in the August Crop Production Report, but they did the extra survey on acres this year. You're right in that silage acres are not included in the harvested acreage estimate, but if Tour scouts land in a field that is intended to be harvested as silage, they will pull a yield sample. (We don't know if it's silage corn or not.) You also said we don't take a yield check on a failed crop. Well... that's not exactly right. I'd call the 16-bu. irrigated corn sample I pulled just south of Bartlett, Neb., would be considered a "failed" crop (hail). But, it was time to take a sample and that was the closest corn field, so that's where we pulled the sample. Also, the yield range of Crop Tour samples in Iowa ranged from zero bu. to 250 bu. on 325 samples pulled in the state. So, at least some of the failed acres are in the yield estimates. And I heard the stories of wading through down corn in southeast Iowa from that straight-line wind storm that blew through in July. My point is this... good or bad, it gets counted if that's where we're supposed to pull a sample.
"broadview49" said: "what good is a yield estimate if you don't get a real representation of the whole crop. I understand they go to the same locations, but what value is there when it only looks at areas that are not adverse. I can say I have 250 bu/acre corn too, if I go to the right places in my fields and I can go in 35' in from the end rows and come up with that figure, but the reality says in those fields the true yield is going to be 160 to maybe 170, because of wet holes and thin areas. We must consider that with the new traited corn these yields could be possible but how do you know if you can't plug in the areas that have adverse conditions which are much larger then have been since the floods of (92 or93?). The only report that made sense considering everything and that had reasons for their predictions was Storm Exchanges Report that was issued on August 13 here on ag web news. I just want realistic figures to make decisions that effect my marketing strategy. Sure seems like all I hear from many different sources who have walked their fields they are not finding anything that relates to the numbers that keep coming from most of these sources."
I think the comments I've already made address a lot of what "broadview49" said. But, there's another thing to add. If we walk out of a field with a 170-bu. yield estimate and that field ends up at 170 bu. per acre, it's a complete coincidence. The only way that could happen is if we were in the exact average spot in the field. But, that's okay because we're not trying to peg the yield in each individual yield. It can be done, but to do it I've pulled as many as 15 samples from one 40-acre field. What we're trying to do is get a good read on the Iowa (or any state on Tour) by pulling multiple samples from "one big field" in that state. I can't tell you how many times a grower has called to tell me we were "way too low" or "way too high" in his field after he ran the combine in the fall. That doesn't surprise us... but those that are "way too low" are like pulling a sample from the "weak" spots in the big Iowa field and those that are "way too high" are like pulling samples from the best dirt in the big Iowa field. We pull as many samples as possible because accuracy on this type of effort comes from volume of samples.
Guys... if I poked some fun at you in these comments, please take them in stride... like I tried to do at the beginning of this post. This was a great discussion you guys had... I just wish I'd had the time to get some of the answers out there earlier. And, if you don't believe any of what I've said in this post -- please, come along on the 2009 Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour and see it for yourself. We'd love to have you join us.