In 2014 during the Pro Farmer Crop Tour, scouts were buzzing about seeing double ears in several corn fields. This year, the ear discussion came up a bit … short. It didn’t take a veteran farmer to spot that situation, either.
“With all the rain earlier this year, we should’ve seen poor plant populations, but we didn’t see that – we saw short ears instead,” says Jonathan Haines, a Crop Tour scout and commodities trader at BTG Pactual.
What Haines saw on his limited leg of the tour through Indiana turned out to be a statewide problem. The Pro Farmer 2015 corn yield estimate for the Hoosier State is 142.94 bu. per acre, which is down 22.7% from 2014 estimates. The big hit came with grain length, which declined 16.2% from a year ago, while ear counts dropped a more modest 6.5%. Average kernel rows also declined 6% from 2014, with an average 15.10 rows per ear.
“The number of ears isn’t the problem,” says Pro Farmer Editor Brian Grete. “The ears are out there. It’s the amount of ears that are 4, 5 and 6 inches long.”
Grete adds that an Indiana yield drop was to be expected – he just wasn’t hoping for quite the plummet this estimate anticipates.
“Last year was a monster crop in Indiana, so to see a big reduction in 2015 wasn’t a big shock, other than it was more than a 20% drop,” he says.
Smaller ear size was also a problem noted in Ohio during the Crop Tour. Incidentally, both USDA and Pro Farmer estimates that corn yields in Ohio will be higher than in Indiana this year. Pro Farmer’s has Ohio yielding 148.37 bu. versus Indiana at 142.94 bu. The latest USDA projections for Ohio and Indiana are 168 bu. and 158 bu., respectively.
But in both states, scouts talked about one word above all others – variability.
“Some fields from the road looked super, but when you got into the field, the difference was night and day,” says Crop Tour scout and Iowa farmer Doug Miller. “And the difference between one sample to the next, also night and day.”
Indiana planted 5.9 million acres of corn in 2014, producing 1.1 billion bushels with an average yield of 188 bu. per acre, according to USDA.
Pro Farmer states it does not estimate soybean yields due to two important variables – number of seeds per pod and seed weight – being virtually impossible to calculate on a tour of this type. However, the tour does calculate the number of pods in a 3’ x 3’ square to see how much of the “bean-making factory” is in production. This year’s 3’ x 3’ pod count in Indiana was 1,093.
Crop Tour scouts took a total of 155 corn and 157 soybean samples from Aug. 17-18. Grete says scouts will collect more than 1,300 samples each of corn and soybeans in a seven-state path that stretches from South Dakota to Ohio by the time the tour concludes.
“We don’t read into what one individual result says – it’s what these 1,300 total fields tell us collectively,” he says.
Nationwide, USDA estimated earlier in August that the U.S. corn yield will average 168.8 bu. per acre in 2015. The Pro Farmer estimate will be released Friday, Aug. 21.
For more information:
See full coverage of the 2015 Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour, hosted by Pro Farmer.
Take your own field measurements and participate in Pro Farmer's Virtual Crop Tour.
Follow the Tour on Twitter with the hashtag #pftour15.