From the Rows with Chip Flory
My favorite days on the Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour are the easy days. You know the kind... the sky is blue, the dirt is dry on top and the crops are coming in just about like I expect them to. Yep... those are the good days...
And that's pretty much the kind of day I had today. We'll start with soybeans. The Nebraska bean crop is mostly disease free with very little insect pressure. And with some rains going through the area tonight, most of the bean crop will have plenty of water to finish the season with a nice big bean in the pod. Throw in a pod count from the Crop Tour that is very similar to last year, and we're probably looking at a bean crop in Nebraska that will be very similar to what we saw last year.
Now... that's what I call a good day on the Tour!
And then came the corn crop. I spent the whole day in irrigated and dryland corn fields. We had the northern most route of the eight traveling through the southeast part of the state. We basically bounced off the south shore of the Platte River all day.
That means we started in some irrigated corn fields, but quickly ran out of the irrigated ground and got into dryland production. That partially helps to explain why I ended the trip today with a bit of disappointment over the corn crop we saw. And the reason for the disappointment is, very simply, ear populations. Ear pops in Nebraska over the two days of pulling 205 corn samples resulted in an ear count down 2% from last year. The straight comparison is valid because the row width narrowed a very slight 0.03% from last year. I don't want to make a joke out of this, but it is very difficult to make up for an "ear that isn't there" with increased grain length or a higher number of kernel rows. Ears matter most.
And anyway... ear length was down less than 1% from last year and the number of kernel rows around the ear was down less than 1% from year-ago. The combination of the 2% drop in ear counts, shorter grain length and fewer kernel rows resulted in an Nebraska corn yield down 2.9% from last year's Tour results.
USDA on Aug. 1 put the Nebraska corn yield steady with year-ago at 166 bu. per acre. (Now... stick with me on this.) USDA's 0% change is compared to a final yield last year that followed a very poor finish. The 2.9% drop in the Crop Tour estimate compares this year's Tour to last year's Tour that ran during the third week of August when the Nebraska corn crop had better yield potential than at the end of the year. So... USDA's 0% change and our 2.9% drop from last year are closer than they sound.
Nonetheless, the drop in ear counts can't be ignored. A lower ear population certainly suggests the Nebraska corn yield estimate should ease back a bit from the 166 estimated by USDA on Aug. 1. The "only" thing, in our opinion, that could put the Nebraska corn yield above year-ago now is kernel weight. If this year's kernels weigh 2.9% more than last year, USDA could be exactly right with its unchanged corn yield. That might not sound like much of an increase, but in a state that is 60% irrigated, that's a significant change in ear weight.
So... after two days of touring the western Corn Belt, I've got some concerns. There was a "hope" in the market that the eastern Belt's problems would be offset by "extra" yield potential in the western Corn Belt. So far, I'd say that isn't happening. We could be surprised by very good yield potential out of the western one-third of Iowa during Wednesday's sampling. Or we could be overwhelmed by excellent yield potential in Minnesota on Thursday's Tour. I don't think either is going to happen. So... after two days of touring the western Belt and looking at the results coming out of the eastern Tour, I think it's safe to say the eastern Belt's lost bushels are not being found in the western Corn Belt.
We pulled a record number of samples out of Nebraska this year... 205 corn samples. That's a great count. But the most impressive sampling I've seen so far is in Indiana. Last year, the Tour pulled 115 samples. This year in some driving rain, the scouts pulled an impressive 136 samples! Nice job by the scouts on the eastern leg of the Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour!!
I can't help but offer some advice to everybody looking at the results from this year's Crop Tour. I figured it out this year and this is the 23rd time I've done the Crop Tour and the 19th time I've lead the Midwest Crop Tour. (Yes... I went on the Tour before we were leading the Tour.) When numbers start moving one year to the next like we're seeing in the eastern Corn Belt, don't get caught up in the specifics. Trust the TRENDS we're seeing from the eastern Belt. When the crop changes so dramatically from year to year (like seen in Indiana), you'll make a mistake if you get "tied" to the percent change... or the actual yield (plus the historical error) we saw in Indiana today. Look more at the "bigger picture." Indiana has a problem... and the Crop Tour confirmed it.
That's it for tonight. I'm going to have wheels turning by 6:00 tomorrow morning. Reason: we've got to drive 25 miles north to cross the Missouri river, then drive 50 miles south to get to the southwest corn of Iowa where we start sampling the Iowa corn crop. That's because of the flooded Missouri River that still has Highway 2 crossing from Nebraska into Iowa closed. I did a story on that for AgDay and U.S. Farm Report on the flooded Missouri today, but if you want to hear what really happened while we were taping that story, catch me for some "off the record" comments at some point along the Tour. (Seriously... you can't make this stuff up!!)