From the Rows with Chip Flory --
"Wait until you see all the numbers." That piece of advice came from the western Crop Tour consultant Terry Johnston as I made my way across southeast Nebraska today. He offered that "voice of reason" over the cell phone after I told him I was disappointed with the corn crop I was looking at south of the Platte River in Nebraska.
Okay... I was disappointed for one very simple reason -- you can tell the difference between irrigated and dryland corn in Nebraska even when driving down the road. This is the first time in three years that you could see moisture stress in the "un-watered" Nebraska corn crop.
And the numbers we collected seemed to be backing up my observations. When my route wrapped up today, the average ear count in 60 foot of row was 5 fewer ears than we saw last year. 5 EARS! That's a pile... and it certainly suggests a lower-than-year-ago corn yield. But when the Tour wrapped up Nebraska and all the numbers were in (just as Terry told me to wait for), the average ear count in 60 foot of row came in at 84.67, up slightly from last year's 83.59 ears in 60 foot of row.
So... where is the difference? We take a relatively small number of samples from north-central Nebraska, but ear counts were up a whopping 24% from last year. Ear counts in northeast Nebraska were up 3.9% from year-ago and ear counts in east-central Nebraska were up 2.42%. In central Nebraska, ear counts were down 7.8% and were down 8.4% in Nebraska crop district 8. But in crop district 9 (southeast), ear counts were actually up 1.4% from last year.
The moral of that story: Don't pass judgment on the state based on what you're seeing on one route. Despite the dryland crop showing more moisture stress than year ago, the ears ARE there in the Husker state.
The average Nebraska yield came in at 158.29 bu. per acre, down just slightly from last year's 158.82 bu. per acre. That's close enough to suggest we saw the same yield potential that we did last year on the Tour. But there are some major differences between last year and 2010. First... we saw no stress on the crop in 2009. This year, the dryland corn is showing some significant moisture stress. That's got to have an impact on yield. Second, the maturity of this year's crop is at least three weeks ahead of last year. That's "good" because the crop doesn't have much downside yield risk. That's also "bad" because the crop doesn't have much to gain from this point forward.
The reason we had a higher average ear count, but a slightly lower yield estimate is because the length of grain per ear came in at 7.29 inches, down from last year's 7.37 inches. The average number of kernel rows around the ear increased to 16.12, compared to 15.94 last year -- but that was offset by an increase in the average row spacing to 31.22 inches, up from last year's 30.88 inches. Oh... and despite today's rain, we pulled 199 samples from Nebraska -- just three less than we pulled last year.
(Remember... and don't be fooled: We know we measure the Nebraska corn crop light... and light by a lot. That's because the state is about 60% irrigated and is 40% dryland corn. On the Tour, our sample mix is about 40% irriagated and 60% dryland... just the opposite of the state. Because of that, we CONSISTENTLY measure the Nebraska corn crop about 17 bu. light. Adding that 17-bu. historical error to this year's results would suggest a corn yield close to 175.5 bu. per acre. That's still shy of the 180 bu. per acre estimated by USDA on Aug. 1... but that's still one heck of a good Nebraska corn crop.)
All in all (and remembering the crop we looked at in northeast Nebraska on Day 1), the Nebraska corn crop is very similar to what we saw last year. It's a really good corn crop. The difference: Maturity. We'll have to wait and see if rapid maturity of the corn crop will have a negative (or positive) impact on final yield.
The Nebraska bean crop is outstanding. These guys have got it figured out on soybeans... they know what they're doing and can "tweak" the bean crop to drive up yields. And with the rain we saw today while sampling, most of the bean crop now has that "one more drink of water" needed to finish strong. Pod counts in Nebraska were up from last year... which is hard to imagine since the crop averaged 54.5 bu. per acre in 2009. And with the crop being mostly disease- and pest-free, today's rain might just provide enough juice to finish the crop very similar to last year.
Honestly, I wish there was more to talk about on the bean crop... but there just isn't much to say. It's "clean" (free of pests and diseases), it's got plenty of pods for a strong yield and it has the water for a strong finish. That, the last time I checked, is the recipe for a big bean yield.
We'll be making our way from Nebraska City, Nebraska, to Spencer, Iowa, on Wednesday. I try not to "ask" for too much on this Tour... but I will ask for a drier day as we make our way through western Iowa!