HIDDEN PROBLEMS VISIBLE FROM BIRD'S EYE VIEW... Earlier this week Pro Farmer Editor Chip Flory hitched a ride on a single-prop plane with two other crop watchers (both scouts on the Midwest Crop Tour) out of Charles City, Iowa, to take a 1,000-foot look at the Iowa corn and soybean crops. The path took them southeastward to Monticello, Iowa, where they identified the western edge of better corn and soybean yield potential. Here are some of Chip's observations from the 360-mile flight. Click here to view pictures of Chip's trip, as well as videos courtesy of Peter Meyer, PIRA Energy Group.
- Prevented-Plant fields were evident from take-off -- the fields around the runway on the airport didn't get planted this year.
- There are real problems down into southern Buchanan Co. until northwestern Jones Co. where crop conditions straighten out.
- Prevented-Plant fields are scattered around northern Linn Co. over to Marshall County. All along that path, there was too much bare dirt for an area that is supposed to have "better" crops. Some spots are ponded-out, other crop holes are squared off; where planters were lifted before getting into deeper mud this spring.
- Prevented-Plant fields were observed from Marshall Co. up to the Iowa border and into the southern tier of counties in Minnesota.
- Most concerning from western Grundy Co. to the north is the amount of bare dirt, thin and scattered corn stands and open canopies in soybean fields. A lot of these problems are hidden from the road.
- Franklin Co. north to Albert Lea, Minnesota, is a mess. Prevented-Plant fields are common as are corn fields with 10% to 20% (some more, some less) bare dirt.
- Tile lines were evident during the entire trip. As a reminder, yield monitors and yield mapping sold a lot of tile in the last decade. Corn that is late to emerge between tile lines simply doesn't catch up to or match the yield of earlier emerging corn over the tile lines. Where the problem is most evident, corn didn't even emerge between the tile lines and stands are thin over tiles.
- The flight over southern Minnesota and across the northern two tiers of counties in Iowa featured "scenery" like the photo at right the entire way. It's a typical mix of Prevented-Plant, flooded out, thin stands, untasseled corn and short beans with some good, earlier-planted and tasseled corn fields in the mix.
NON-FARM PAYROLLS MISS THE MARK... This morning's employment report from the Department of Labor showed the economy added 162,000 non-farm payrolls in July, which was well below expectations of 183,000 (the pre-report "whisper" number was in excess of 200,000). In addition, May and June payrolls were revised down a combined 26,000 from previously reported figures. But unemployment ticked down from 7.6% to 7.4% due to a smaller participation rate. The U.S. dollar index softened immediately on the disappointing employment data, as investors are using employment as a barometer to when the Federal Reserve will begin rolling back its asset purchases. Click here for more.
HOW USDA'S NASS SURVEYS CROP POTENTIAL... We asked Joe Prusacki, director of NASS's Statistics Division, to provide us with more understanding on how the agency comes up with its crop estimates. He shared with us the training materials and yield survey forms enumerators use in each field in an effort to help Pro Farmer Members understand how and why NASS does what it does; The answers to common questions we hear from you are below (and this is a fraction of the information in the 96-page manual for soybeans and 95-page manual for corn).
How does NASS select a field? Corn and soybean fields included in the Objective Yield Surveys are selected from fields in the tracts enumerated during the June Agricultural Survey (for the June Acreage Report). The sample is drawn so that the probability of any field being chosen is proportional to the size of that field. A 40-acre field is twice as likely to be selected as a 20-acre field. The sample includes small fields as well as large ones. In some cases, a large field is chosen two or more times. This field will have two or more objective yield samples assigned to it.
How much information do they gather? Because of variable development of corn and soy-
bean crops across the country, enumerators are instructed to collect all available information from fields. In corn fields, enumerators may count only stalks; or count stalks with ears or silked ear shoots; or the number of ears and silked ear shoots; or ears with evidence of kernel formation; or, if mature, harvest ears to be sent to the lab for drying and weighing. In soybean fields, enumerators count the number of plants; the number of nodes on the main stem of plants; the number of lateral branches with blooms, dried flowers or pods; the number of blooms, dried flowers, and pods; and the number of pods with beans; or, if mature, harvest all pods (all sizes with or without beans) from all plants in the sample and send them to the lab.
Doesn't USDA really measure just the biological yield? Post-harvest gleaning is completed for one-fourth of the samples within three days after harvest. The manual for corn says, "Keep in touch with the farmer so you will know when harvest is completed in the sample field designated for post-harvest observation. Glean the sample units immediately after harvest so that they are not disturbed by birds and rodents or destroyed by plowing."
A historic harvest loss is applied to pre-harvest yield samples and the harvest loss assumption is replaced with actual loss after harvest. Because harvest loss is either modeled or measured, the NASS estimate is not just the biological yield.
How can they measure an immature crop? Prusacki says this is where modeling comes into play. If only stalks are counted for the August Crop Report, a historical ear:stalk ratio is applied (an average of 97% of Iowa stalks historically carry an ear, for example). An average historical ear weight is then applied along with the historical harvest loss to model the estimated corn yield. (Row width in corn and soybean fields are also recorded to determine how much of an acre the plots actually represent.) Similar modeling is used on soybeans. Prusacki says, "We know only 'so many' blooms make pods, then we apply historical pod weights and harvest loss in the yield model."
Early in the season when crops are immature, Prusacki stresses the NASS survey of farmers' yield expectations also plays an important role in the NASS estimates. "As the crop matures, our enumerators collect more reliable data, increasing the accuracy of our estimates," says Prusacki.
THE 'READ' ON KEY WASHINGTON ISSUES... Washington consultant Jim Wiesemeyer says these are key issues to watch out of Washington into mid-September:
- Don't listen to or read anything about the farm bill because nothing will change until House members return in September from their summer recess to decide the fate of a separate nutrition spending cut measure.
- Republicans, despite a lot of threats to the contrary, will not force a government shutdown over various budget and other policy issues. We expect a short-term continuing resolution into early 2014. But some say President Obama is coaxing conservative House Republicans into forcing a shutdown in hopes any such development would mean Democrats would be favored for 2014 elections.
- The Federal Reserve could take some baby steps in starting to withdraw its stimulus measures. The August employment data and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's post-Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting press conference on Sept. 18 will be critical. The Fed will also release updated economic projections following the Sept. 17-18 FOMC meeting.
- EPA hopefully will release final 2013 and perhaps initial 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) volume requirements. While no major changes are likely for 2013, we know EPA is mulling some changes for 2014.