We're finally in Owatonna, MN. And here's the best news from the 2012 Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour -- all the scouts that started in Columbus, OH, and Sioux Falls, SD made it to Owatonna with no major setbacks or accidents. That's not to say there weren't a few disturbances along the way. Keys were lost in a weedy spot of a corn field only to have "Divine intervention" kick in, which led another scout right to the spot where they were on the ground. And then there was the break-away shoulder of a road that brought a wrecker out to gravel road to pull not one, but two Crop Tour cars out of the ditch. And there was an electrifying experince on Tour this year next to a bean field that for some reason was burning hot to give a non-farming scout an example of how we keep cattle in without four strands of barbed wired around the field. There's plenty of other interesting stories from this year's Crop Tour... and there will be plenty similar stories from the 2013 Tour... but you'll have to come along to witness them first hand.
And speaking of coming along on the Tour: The Crop Tour is something we do for the industry. We don't hide anything along the way, but it's obvious from some of the comments made about the Tour that there are still some market-observers out there that think we do. To those who have commented about how the Tour runs this week and have questioned our motives out here on the road, I have just two things to say to you. 1) Come on the 2013 Tour. 2) PLEASE.
I do want to comment on one of the commentaries about the Tour. Here's what a Pro Farmer Member was nice enough to alert us about: "Their Midday Grain Report from ........ said they will never know why the PF Tour didn't travel through some of the worst areas of crops in the Corn Belt since 1936, particularly southern Illinois."
When I make this next comment, I mean absolutely no disrespect to the farmers in southern Illinois. The Crop Tour has never run through southern Illinois. To start doing it this year because they've got a bad crop would throw a wrench into everything we've done over the last 20 years of touring the Midwest crops. We absolutely DO NOT get outside of the Tour area and start pulling yield samples just because this year is different than all the other years. That would absolutely screw up our ability to compare this year's data to previous years, which would make this year's data absolutely worthless. So... to answer this company's question (We'll never know..."): We didn't go south of the Tour area to sample really low corn yields because we absolutely must maintain the integrity of the Tour.
And here's a question for this company: Why haven't you complained or commented about not getting south of the Tour area in Illinois when they've had excellent yields in far down-state Illinois? Is it because you might be a little biased? Did you want us to come out on the road and deliver yield results that supported your market positions? If you did... tough. That's not what we do. If you question that, ask a crop scout that has the gumption to get out and see the crop for him or herself... and refer back to the two things above that I have to say to you.
And one more point about not getting into the Dust Bowl of southern Illinois. We have a pretty good idea of how many acres were planted down there, so why in the world would we spend our time on Tour traveling between fields that will yield zero to 50 bu. per acre? Isn't it more important to get into areas that do have a crop to try to figure out just how many bushels we'll have to work with in the 2012-13 marketing year?
Okay... with that out of the way, let's get to some numbers. We left Spencer, IA, this morning and everybody deadheaded to Minnesota (just like we always do). Once in Minnesota, we started sampling fields south of Highway 212 and from Luverne, MN, over to our final stop in Owatonna. That means we spend most of our day in crop districts 7, 8 and 9 in Minnesota, which are traditionally the highest-yielding crop districts in the state.
When we wrapped thing up in Minnesota, we had an average corn yield of 156.19 bu. per acre. That's down 11.2% from last year's Tour findings. USDA on August 1 had Minnesota down just 1 bu. from last year (0.6%), which means we may not have seen as good of a crop in Minnesota as expected. However, this is one of those years that yields north of the Tour area may actually out-yield some of the counties to the south. As a result of the northern production areas likely to yield above year-ago, that will offset at least a portion of the yield declines we saw in the southern three crop districts of the state.
The corn crop in Minnesota was also the least mature of all the crops we samples in the western Corn Belt. And that's actually a good thing. When I go through Minnesota, I like to see a corn crop that is late dough to very early dent in the third full week of August. That means the milder temps that normally start rolling into Minnesota at the end of August and early September, along with a potential shot of rain that normally comes in late summer stand a chance of building an even bigger yield. This year - even with the corn crop in Minnesota being the least mature we saw in the western Belt, it's still about two weeks ahead of normal for the state. So, this year, we feel like we measured actual yield in the state.
Soybean pod counts in Minnesota were disappointing to me. We ended up with 934 pods in a 3-by-3-foot square, which means pod counts are down 16.9% from last year. That continued the story of the bean crop in the western Corn Belt. Pods counts were down sharply across the western Corn Belt, but Minnesota was the "least bad" of the bunch.
Most important to note is the bean crop needs a drink and needs it now. Without moisture, the one-quarter inch bean pods we counted today will be aborted and there is no way the crop will add any additional late-season pods that can add an extra bushel to bean yields. Already, we noted some pods were starting to abort beans... and that's only going to get worst over the next 10 days as the bean crop starts to reach maturity.
As we wrap up our 20th Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour... thanks to all the scouts (which this year represented the wildest number of foreign countries and hardest-working farmers we've ever had in addition to the best first-year crop of scouts we may have ever had on Tour). Guys... thanks for making us look good again this year.