Western Tour: Day 4 observations from Chip, Brian and Terry

12:00AM Aug 21, 2008
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From the Rows

Well... we made it to Austin after pulling another 36 samples out of southern Minnesota. While the guys on the eastern side of were doing their best to stay dry on the only rainy day of the 2008 Tour, Terry Johnston, Brian Grete and I were enjoying another day of sunshine, cool temps and a nice breeze. We did have some rain today... we had about 20 raindrops on the windshield of the car AFTER we pulled our last sample of the year in Mower Co., Minnesota. (Whew!)

On the east and west legs of the Tour, we pulled a total of 2,100 samples! (We had just a few more corn samples than we did soybean samples.) All the scouts on both sides of Tour were enthusiastic, fired up and ready to roll!

Terry, Brian and I today pulled samples from a VERY dry Minnesota. Plant health is good, disease pressure is very low and pest pressure on the corn and soybean crops in Minnesota is probably even lower. We did see some corn leaf aphids and some rootworm beetles... but it was a surprise when we found them. And weed pressure might be a little heavier than in most years, but it's not heavy enough to pull down yield potential (much).

But... it's dry. VERY dry. And the maturity of the corn crop isn't nearly as advanced as the last two years. Most fields we sampled are in the late-milk to mid-dough stage, although we did have a couple fields just starting to dent. But I'm not too concerned about the maturity of the Minnesota corn crop... we've seen this before. Most recently, we were very concerned about the 2004 corn crop not getting to the finish line before the first frost of the season. It made it... and it made it in very good shape.

But there's a difference between the 2004 and 2008 corn crops. In 2004, the corn crop had good moisture to finish. Then the growing season extended a few days at the end of the season. This year, dry conditions are lowering my expectations... and we'll have to wait until the end of September to know if the first frost of the season will hold-off long enough to let the crop finish.

One other thing about the Minnesota crop -- the "color" is off just a bit. The last two years, the color of the crop was dark green... this year, it's got a little too much yellow in it to make me comfortable with a "big" yield for the state. It's dry... the crop is losing nitrogen... and I just wonder if the crop has enough gas to maximize its yield potential.

Okay... the numbers. The final corn yield for Minnesota was 178.35 bu. per acre. Don't panic... we've got to make an adjustment to that number. We know the Tour over estimates the state yield by about 12.09 bu. per acre. That's because we sample from the higher-yielding southern areas and don't get far enough north to get into some of the lower-yielding acres to the north. Take those bushels off the tally and we end up at 166.26 bu. per acre. The yield estimate in Minnesota was up 5.5% from last year's Tour. That compares to USDA's expected 13% increase... so maybe USDA pushed the estimate up a bit too much in its August 1 estimate.

On soybeans, we ended up with a pod count in a 3X3 square of 1006.6, down 2.3% from year-ago. As of Aug. 1, USDA put the Minnesota crop at 40 bu. per acre, down 2.4% from year ago. So... we're basically looking at the same crop as USDA.

Of the 17 soybean samples we took on our route through Minnesota today, we had a low of 590.6 pods in a 3X3 square to a high of 1644.2 pods. The average pod count from our samples was 1001.8 -- 998.2 pods in district 7, 1070.2 pods in district 8 and 778.4 pods in district 9. While district 9 had the lowest pod count on our route, those beans looked the best from the road -- generally dark green and relatively lush. Conversely, the worst "looking" beans were in district 8 -- our highest average pod count. Some of the beans in district 8 were short, spindly and ugly enough that even there mama wouldn't like them. So... maybe it's true that a soybean plant thrives best under some stress. But to finish strong, the Minnesota soybean crop we sampled today will need rains soon to fill pods with decent sized pods. What the Minnesota soybean crops is much the same corn and beans throughout the Corn Belt need -- time and water.

One other thing... when in Madelia, we'd recommend the beef and noodle hot dish. A warm, old fashioned meal hits the spot after a long week of sampling hundreds of corn and soybean fields.