Trust Iowa corn to be the star in a presidential election year.
While crops in Nebraska and Minnesota left scouts unimpressed this year, Iowa posted an 8-bushel jump in rough corn yield compared to 2015, according to Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour numbers released Thursday.
The reason for the statewide yield estimate of 188.17: Bigger, fatter ears. Grain length increased to 6.90 inches in 2016, and so did kernel rows, rising to 16.27, based on the work of the 110 crop scouts who pulled 367 Iowa corn samples for the calculations.
Now in its 24th year, the Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour is of the largest and closely followed crop tours of its kind in the world and provides information about Corn Belt corn and soybean production to growers and the markets.
In eastern Iowa and western Iowa, “we pulled dented corn that was heavier than heck,” said Pro Farmer Brian Grete. “They were absolutely clubs, baseball bats or whatever you want to call them. … Remember that yield is a grain weight measurement.”
Those eastern Iowa cornfields also had another advantage: consistency. “East of Iowa City, the corn crop wasn’t very consistent,” said scout Kyle Wendland, who was on the tour’s western leg. “That changed Thursday.”
That type of corn—big, girthy, and even—pushed up the statewide numbers and compensated for western Iowa’s lackluster performance.
Soybeans remained strong, with a statewide average count of 1,224.28 pods in a 3’ x 3’ square, according to Pro Farmer. That’s just barely above 2015, when scouts found an average of 1,219.21 pods in a 3’ x 3’ square. (Unlike corn, the Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour does not estimate yield for soybeans, just potential for yield.)
“I saw fairly decent stuff from Waterloo to the Minnesota border,” said crop scout Dick Overby of Kenyon, Minn. “But the pod counts weren’t all that great—and they were so varied that it’s unreal.”
He pointed to dramatically different weather patterns across the state. “We had so many areas with huge disparities with regards to moisture this year,” Overby said. “Some areas had decent periodic showers, others had none, and still others were inundated.”
Could a few timely rains help fill those pods and boost Iowa’s soybean yields? Wendland doubted it, based on the surprising absence of tiny pods on the soybean plants he sampled in Iowa. “We were counting a more mature plant,” he said. “There are no small pods left to be filled.”
Wendland, who lives in South Dakota and farms in northeast Iowa, also noted the alarming presence of sudden death syndrome in Iowa soybean fields this year. “I’ve never seen SDS take over an entire field,” Wendland said.
USDA in August projected a corn yield of 197 bushels per acre and a soybean yield of 57 bushels per acre.
Crop Tour scouts hauled in dozens of corn and soybean samples during their tenure in Iowa. Here's some of what they saw firsthand.