Another fly-over crop tour
Jul 21, 2008
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…
... about what's happening to the grain markets. In reality, everyone probably should have expected the steep declines being posted in corn and soybean futures. In 2006 and in 2007, the markets experienced similar declines. And think about it -- the crops are looking better day to day and week to week.
That does NOT mean the corn and soybean crops are "good" -- it just means they are both looking better on a regular basis. That may have reversed overnight in some areas that got 3-plus inches of rain on already saturated soils, refilling field ponds and sending creeks out of their banks... again. And this time, we're out of time to replant any freshly-drowned crops. What we lose this time will be gone for good.
Still... what is up and growing does look better than it did one week ago.
And this was quite a week at Pro Farmer! We started with our annual Leading Edge Conference in Des Moines, Iowa. We had 200-plus operations gathered to discuss economic conditions, farm policy and markets to and just "cuss" input costs. This week's issue of Pro Farmer newsletter features highlights of the LEC and sets the stage for upcoming coverage of all these critical issues.
AgDay and U.S. Farm Report AgriBusiness Director Al Pell flew himself to Des Moines to tape the business segment for this weekend's shows. Since Al was available, Pro Farmer Sr. VP Chuck Roth made a fly-over of the crops in central Iowa. If you'll remember, this is the same area I flew over with Al about a month ago. The pictures I snapped showed extreme field ponding around central Iowa -- ponding that looked very similar to what the region saw in 1993.
When Chuck got back to the conference, he had a disk full of pictures from the same area. Here's how the conversation between me and Chuck went down:
Chuck: "It looks really bad from up there!"
Chip: "I figured it did... I've been telling you how bad this crop is -- and I've been talking about how the damage is hidden from the road."
Chuck: "Yeah... but I didn't think it would be this bad!"
Chip: "I'm telling you... you need to pay more attention to what I tell you!"
(Open the file and take a look at the pictures...)
Chip: "Whoa... this is even worse than I thought it was!"
Chuck: "I know. I'm telling you... you need to pay more attention to what I tell you!"
The following pictures were taken July 15 along I-35 in central Iowa between Ames and Webster City (between Hiway 30 on the south and Hiway 20 on the north end).
Those lines in the bare ground near the middle of the picture are fresh tile scars. If you look close at the left-center portion of the picture, you can also make out tile scars leading into the head tile that connects to the center "spot" of dry dirt. Obviously, crops that sat under water for too long didn't recover -- and won't grow any crops this year.
While this shot shows a lot of bare dirt, it's not the worst of these conditions Chuck observed while flying with Al Pell on July 15. This shot has some crops that could be considered excellent, but areas of late development and thin stands obviously outnumber the "good" areas. And on the right edge of this picture, you can see that some of the deepest field ponds were still holding some water. Since this picture was taken, another 2-4 inches of rain fell July 17. Very likely... all of these bare spots are holding water again.
This is a shot of some of the "prettiest" crops Chuck saw. Obviously, there are some crops in this picture that are probably considered "excellent." But, there are also some bare areas, late crops and thin stands that can be pinpointed.
Those light-green shaded ponds in the middle of these corn fields could be one of two things. 1) Weeds. 2) Most likely, those are soybeans growing in one-time dry field ponds. Driving through an area just south of this area on I-35, we saw several examples of soybeans planted into drowned-out spots in corn fields. In the lower right of this picture, the strips are probably alternating corn and wheat (maybe oats?) Since there's a huge bare spot at the top of the strips, I can only assume this grower is looking to take advantage of discounted summer-tile fees and to lay some pipe in the ground after the wheat (or oats) is harvested.
I love this picture. Let me ask you this... how much hog manure (nitrogen) was put on that corn field either last fall or this spring? Still, the yellow corn near the "top" of the field perfectly outlines where water was standing a month ago and the bare spot shows where water stood too long. Now... there are also some what appear to be very good crops shown in this picture, but the yellow spots undoubtedly hold yield-damaged corn.
More evidence of ponding and nitrogen loss in the "yellowed" areas.
This is really sad... just look at all that bare ground and lost bushels of corn and soybeans!
This shots got something for everybody. There are undoubtedly some "excellent" spots in this picture, but the late-developing crop near the center of the picture is strong evidence of how late some corn and soybean crops were planted this spring. The bare spots, yellow spots were common across the area.
Couldn't resist putting this one in there... look at how big that bar spot is!
Okay... last shot. I'll end it with a question: "How in the world is USDA going to account for all the different conditions (ranging from excellent to "zero" crop shown in this ONE picture) for the August Crop Production Report!?!"