Look at the difference in kernel size between these two Iowa corn samples. Even though scouts corn yields that averaged about 136 bu. per acre, compared to the USDA’s Aug. 10 estimate of 141, it’s going to take more kernels to produce a bushel.
Iowa crops could of course be better, but yields there are more promising than those in other drought-stricken states.
By Boyce Thompson and Ed Clark
The western Iowa leg of the Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour held few corn surprises for 19-year tour veteran Jay Merryman.
"For corn, this was the worst yields I’ve ever seen," says Merryman, a central Iowa farmer and trader. He expected that, even though he secretly hoped that corn plants had miraculously rebounded from the severe drought. "In the past, I’ve seen individual fields that were bad, but never an entire route that was bad."
After a day of touring corn and soybean fields in the western half of the state, Pro Farmer editor Chip Flory elected to be upbeat. Flory was mildly surprised at how well the crops had fared despite the hardships of a prolonged drought, relentless sun and occasional strong winds.
"You’ve got to consider the growing season we went through—extremely dry and extremely hot. But, we are finding some strong corn yields that are over 160 bu. per acre, some as high as 180, 190 bu. per acre," says Flory, attributing some of the success to improved genetics.
Merryman agreed. One of the day’s biggest surprises for him came from southwest Iowa, where one field planted with a new drought-resistant hybrid was forecast to yield 202 bu. per acre, just 1 bu. shy of year-ago levels. This led grower Dale Kuehl of Atlantic, Iowa, to say he will consider planting more drought-resistant varieties in 2013, depending on how the final numbers from his combine’s yield monitor come out.
Merryman and other scouts also acknowledged that Iowa is an improvement over other key states, notably hard-hit South Dakota, which the tour has visited. First-year scout Darrell Shields, a Chicago trader for CJS Trading Co., says that after canvassing South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa, dryland farms in western Iowa definitely were the best corn he’s seen on the tour, although irrigated farmland in Nebraska showed the most impressive yields overall.
The country has a lot at stake in the amount of corn and soybeans that Iowa produces. Iowa has produced more corn than any other state for each of the last 20 years.
Pro Farmer’s corn yield forecasts released Wednesday night show that yields in southwest Iowa came in at 137 bu. per acre, west central Iowa at 143 and northwest Iowa, the brightest yields of the day, at 159. These yields are significantly below year-ago levels as well as the three-year Pro Farmer average. By contrast, USDA yields for the entire state of Iowa were forecast Aug. 10 (based on Aug. 1 conditions) to be 141 bu. per acre.
Flory’s group also turned up occasional fields with smaller-than average kernels. He estimates that the smaller kernels may reduce yields by 20%. Wind damage, which was apparent in select fields up and down the state, is another wild card in the yield scenario.
Several cobs taken from the fields were plagued by tip fill, caused by the drought interfering with corn pollination.
The group didn’t find as many burned out Iowa fields as it did South Dakota and Nebraska, where the drought took a heavier toll. Even so, some farmers were already harvesting their fields due to stress from heat and dryness that had resulted in bent-over cobs and weak stalks.
The group visited one field of 114-day corn that had already been harvested. Marty Tegtmeier, an Iowa farmer who rode with Flory, estimated that the crop must have been planted in late March, an extremely aggressive move. Another farmer was running a combine in his fields when the team arrived to estimate his yield, which he put at 150 bu. per acre.
Soybeans fare better
Soybean crops were doing better than corn. Flory's group saw some extremely healthy, dark green plants, some with pod clusters of four or more. Also, growth of soybean plants appeared more uniform than in South Dakota or Nebraska. Even so, yield calculations varied widely from field to field depending on water conditions, among other things.
Merryman said he was surprised by the consistently low pod counts over 19 sampling stops on his route, despite the recent cool-down and moisture in some of Iowa’s soybean country. Eight-year scout veteran Mike Nichols, a trader with McVean Trading & Investments, LLC, in Memphis, said he thought that soybeans might still have some upward price momentum left. "The stress started so early that the factory just isn’t there," he says.
USDA found that Iowa soybeans are in better shape than corn. Only 37% of the state’s beans are judged by the USDA to be in poor to very poor condition. The agency forecasts a yield of 43.0 bu. per acre, 7.5 bushels below last year’s level. This would be the smallest yield since 2003.
But a few key rains at key times helped the crop along. "I think what we’re looking at is a decent yield, not a great yield," Flory says.
Final Iowa numbers will not be available until Thursday, following the state’s canvassing being completed by the eastern leg of the tour. Tomorrow, the western tour finishes up in Minnesota, where some analysts hold hopes for stronger yields.
For More Information
2012 Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour, hosted by Pro Farmer.
Take your own field measurements and participate in Pro Farmer’s Virtual Crop Tour.