From the Rows with Chip Flory
We're getting ready to hit the road and putting together the riders with drivers and I figured this would be a great time to talk a little about how the Tour operates.
First, we do our best to change up riders and drivers each day, but it doesn't always work. We do this for a couple of reasons. First, we want to give everybody as much opportunity as possible to meet and talk with different people. Also, we understand that personalities are different... and some people just don't get along! By changing up the riders and drivers as much as possible, we lower the risk of sticking two people together that just don't "click" for more than one day.
The Tour travels in teams of three or four scouts per route with 10 to 12 routes per day on the eastern leg and 7 to 9 routes per day on the western leg. We've mentioned a couple of times this year that we actually had to turn some potential scouts away this year... we just had too many requests to come along. That's the first time we've done this in 18 years of directing the Tour and it was disappointing to have to do it. When we started turning scouts away, they asked a legitimate question -- why not just add more routes?
The way things stand, we'll already be doubled up on some routes... and we don't like to do that. Even with two scout teams traveling on one route, they'll work together and produce just one set of data. We always talk about "more is better," but that's not always the case. If each team traveling on one route each collected its own set of yield samples, the total data sample would be weighted more heavily to that route than on past Tours. If each route had two scout teams, we'd go ahead and double up samples because the weighting would be similar to past Tours. But, for now we'll stick with just one data set per route regardless of the number of scout teams traveling that route.
Another reason: There are only so many roads to get from one overnight stop to the next. (Seriously... we're not kidding.) By adding routes, we'd be running two routes too close together, again increasing the number of samples pulled from a very similar route, resulting in the same "weighting" issue discussed above.
The other reason we started turning potential scouts away is because we want to give each scout the experience they expect on the Tour. That includes getting into the field and talking with a variety of people involved (one way or another) in the ag industry. As the number of scouts increased, we started growing concerned that scouts wouldn't get the experience they expect.
We look for the scout teams to bring back at least one sample per county their route travels through. If possible, get two... and try to average about 15 samples per day. They do that by stopping about every 15 miles on their route and pulling a corn and a soybean sample. We only tell the scouts which route to follow... we don't tell them where to stop. That helps keep the data collection random... and that adds value to the data collected.
Once scouts decide where they're going to stop, they'll get past the end rows and then walk an additional 35 paces into the field. Most likely, there is no way scout teams will be able to tell what's that deep into a field before they start into the field. It also gets scouts away from "high traffic" areas in the field to get away from compaction issues.
To add some randomness to the data collection, we pull the 5th, 8th, and 11th ear from one of two sample rows. That means scouts might pull the three best... or worst... ears from that sample row. But that's okay... we're not trying to peg the yield in that corn field. We're looking to get an idea of the yield potential of one big corn field that stretches from Ohio to central Nebraska and from central Minnesota down into downstate Illinois. If we do peg the yield in an individual field, it's completely by coincidence. It means we landed in "the" average spot of that field. (Not likely to happen.)
In soybeans, we don't estimate a yield. Instead we calculate the number of pods in a 3-foot by 3-foot square. That gives us a good idea of how much of the soybean production factory is up and running from one year to the next. When counting pods, we're observing how many beans there are per pod, but not recording that number. The number of beans per pod has a big impact on the soybean yield, as does the weight of those soybeans. That's another number we try to observe and estimate, but we don't record that observation.
By counting the pods and the number of plants in three feet of row, scouts also get down into the rows to make some additional observations. As they're counting plants, they'll also be in position to notice any disease problems. And we record the soil moisture. The amount of water available to the bean plant at this time of the year determines how many pods the plant will hold onto and the size of the beans inside the pod.
That, in a nutshell, is what happens on the Tour. Each day, scouts show up at the hotels, turn in their data sheets and the data gets faxed back to the Pro Farmer office in Cedar Falls where a team enters the data into spreadsheets. Once the data is entered and checked, it's faxed back to the Crop Tour locations where it is released and discussed. We like to call in "real time information and analysis." It's a lot of fun to try to put some market perspective on the data, as well.
Be sure to come back to agweb.com and to "From the Rows" to get daily comments from me and Terry Johnston on the western Tour and from Brian Grete and Mark Bernard on the eastern Tour. Each day, Brian and I will sum up and analyze the numbers and Terry and Mark will talk about agronomic conditions. We're looking forward to the Tour!
For More Information
2011 Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour