Yes, the state had benefited from more rain than most. But it had been distributed unevenly.
By Boyce Thompson and Ed Clark
Expectations were high as scouts on the Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour rolled into Minnesota on Thursday morning. The USDA on Aug. 1 had forecast a corn crop of 155 bu./acre, second best in the country. And agronomists had predicted that the state, which had benefitted from better rainfall than most, would produce a strong soybean crop as well.
As scouts began taking samples, two things quickly became apparent. First, the key crops in Minnesota were a lot better off than the other states (Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota) that they had previously visited on the tour. Second, there was tremendous variable in yield potential between farms and even within fields.
"This was the best day of the tour," says scout Tom Burrer, a 5,000 acre corn, soybean and wheat grower in Elyria, Ohio. "The fields looked best (compared to other states) driving by them. Sampling fields reinforced that. I’m impressed, actually."
Commenting on the western Crop Tour overall, Burrer says that while states were down significantly from historic averages, yield projections ended up higher overall than what he had been led to believe was out there by hearsay and media reports. "This year is a disaster, particularly for farmers severely affected, but it’s not two feet corn with no yields. It’s not the Dust Bowl," he says.
What struck scout Philip Beeson is how well Minnesota yields held up even less than 10 miles of the South Dakota border, given that South Dakota yields came in a disastrous 47% below Pro Farmer’s 2011 levels. Yields on Beeson’s route ranged from 93 in extreme southwest Minnesota, to over 180 at the last stop more in the south central part of the state.
"I wouldn’t have expected yields (along Minnesota’s western border) to be as high as they have been," says Beeson, director of commodity services with Beeson & Associates Inc., Louisville, Ky. Scouts note that yields showed marked improvement moving north and east from the Iowa/South Dakota border, hitting an area some term Minnesota’s sweet spot.
"Minnesota kernel size is also a little more average, which is good, compared to other areas," Beeson adds. Some dry land samples in Nebraska looked more like popcorn than No. 2 yellow corn, something not present with Minnesota ears. Beeson estimates that it will be another three to five weeks before most Minnesota corn fields are ready to harvest, at least two weeks ahead of normal, while other areas such as Nebraska and parts of Iowa are either ready, or nearly ready, now. Agronomists on the tour encourage producers to get ready and quickly, for harvest.
Minnesota Caught the Rains
Yes, the state had benefited from more rain than most. But it had been distributed unevenly. The state did not escape the hot and dry conditions that plagued the rest of the Corn Belt, and Minnesota suffered through triple-digit temperatures and drying winds in July. Yet spotty rains at just the right times in some key areas of the state allowed many southern Minnesota farmers to escape the worst wrath of this year’s yield-robbing drought in the Heartland.
"It was one of those years when you would look out your front window and see your neighbor’s rows get belted with a strong rain, yet only a few drops would fall on your window," said Ken Eckhardt, a scout leader on the tour who farms in Minnesota Lake, Minn. "But we did pretty well compared to most places. The rain gauge showed that we got 19.1 inches."
More than a dozen random corn samples on this day produced an average potential corn yield 157.8 bu./per acre, very close to the USDA estimate. That evening, Pro Farmer revealed that several groups combined on the tour had produced an average yield of 156.2 bu./per acre.
But the state’s strong overall performance, thanks to slightly cooler temperatures and more rain, masked the tremendous variability encountered by scouts. Though few fields were completely wiped out—a common scenario in previous states—some would produce must less than 100 bu./acre. The causes varied.
Some farmers had planted too much corn on soil that was too sandy or on a hillside. A few hadn’t paid enough attention to spacing between plants. Others just hadn’t gotten enough rain, which made other mistakes apparent.
Minnesota’s soybeans were also among the best seen on the tour. Though weeks away from being harvested, most carried more pods than plants picked in previous states. And those pods typically contained more beans—an average of 2.7 beans per pod in the three fields tested by one crew, compared to 2.1 per pod at several stops in Iowa.
Karl Duncanson, a famer in Mapleton, Minn., expected his soybean crop to produce at least 50 bu./acre, well above the national average. Duncanson, like most farmers in Minnesota, rotates his soybean crop after one year to keep the pests and diseases away.
Hear more from Duncanson:
As the group pushed into the central portion of the state, yields began to increase in both the soybean and corn fields. Several heavily planted fields with large cobs produced projected yields of 220 bu./acre and above.
In the best years, a rising tide lifts all boats in Minnesota. Not so must this year. Instead, with just enough rain to go around, there wasn’t as much margin for error.
Even so, Seth Naeve of the University of Minnesota’s Department of Agronomy & Plant Genetics, calls the state’s soybean crop respectable. "A few will have excellent yields. Many will have poor yields. But all will have something to haul to the elevator. Producers here know that they are very fortunate."
Naeve says that farmers received enough rain to create a good canopy, and rows closed relatively early, setting up a strong yield scenario. Soybean yields could average 45 bu./acre if current conditions (cooler daytime temperatures and widespread rain) continue. Under the opposite scenario, rising temperatures and no rain, yields could drop below 40 bu./acre.
For More Information
2012 Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour, hosted by Pro Farmer.
Take your own field measurements and participate in Pro Farmer’s Virtual Crop Tour.