What a year for this corn crop—and what a tour. Participation this year was beyond expectations. In our first year, 1993, our evening "banquet” was four or five pizzas. This year, our evening meetings hosted huge crowds, with tour sponsors Pioneer and John Deere Risk Protection inviting customers and friends to share information about the crop. With information-sharing in mind, let's sum up the corn crop in the tour states, following the itinerary, combining states on the East and West Tours.
Day 1: Ohio and South Dakota
These crops are the most vulnerable to losing bushels to frost, even if it holds off until Oct. 1. In Ohio, pollen was still flying and making its way to green silks; in South Dakota, a few fields had pollinated within a week or 10 days of tour time.
Unfortunately, there is a long list of factors that could steal bushels. Above-normal temperatures as the days are shortening compress the time kernels have to add dry matter, especially in a late-developing year.
In Ohio, lack of rain has really put the crop on the edge and if the dry pattern lasts until the end of the season, we'll lose yield to a "stealth drought.” The absence of hot temps and all the rain earlier this year meant dry conditions snuck up on the Buckeye State.
In the end, the bushels we lost in Ohio were found in South Dakota.
Day 2: Indiana and Nebraska
Everybody was impressed with these crops. Dryland yield potential across Nebraska is very good. We're a bit concerned about the maturity pace on the corn crop north of the Platte River, but everything south seems to be far enough advanced that it'll make it to the finish line before the first frost. In Indiana, the maturity concern is in the eastern part of the state, while western Indiana corn looks to be on pace to finish before frost.
The disappointment in Nebraska is the irrigated corn crop. Much of that traces back to the planting season, when growers were forced to seed under less-than-ideal conditions. Ear sets in irrigated fields vary down the row—evidence of uneven emergence—and row skips tell us there would have been a few more ears out there had every kernel germinated. Most scouts agreed we should have seen another 10 bu. in those irrigated Nebraska corn fields.
In the end, the bushels we lost in Nebraska irrigated corn were found in Indiana.
Day 3: Illinois and western Iowa
Illinois fell short of expectations; western Iowa beat expectations, though it will remain in recovery mode through the end of the growing season. Both might need just a few extra days to help reach full potential, and both needed rain. Without rain, the soil's inability to hold onto nitrogen will result in lower test weights.
In the end, the lost bushels in Illinois were found in western Iowa.
Day 4: Eastern Iowa and Minnesota
The eastern Iowa corn crop is recovering better. It built a respectable yield on timely July rains but was struggling to hold onto it during the tour. Dryness and a lack of nitrogen set the crop up for a less-than-ideal finish. In Minnesota, the story is very similar. A shot of rain is probably the top priority for the crop.
GENERAL: PLANT HEALTH
One thing we didn't talk about much at all was crop-health issues. Disease pressure is exceptionally light and I could count on one hand the number of ear worms I saw. Farmer and crop scout Neil Hadley of Union, Iowa, summed up plant health best: "We're going to get a higher percentage of this year's crop in the bin than we have in a long time.”
Top Producer, September 2008