Editor's Note: This article appeared in the September 2008 issue of Top Producer. As you will read, Pro Farmer's Midwest Crop Tour is a good judge on what the crop will actually do. Last year, for example, expectations heading in were for much lower than USDA estimated yields. However, the tour confirmed that USDA was on target and the final estimate from Pro Farmer was right on the dot with final USDA numbers. This is the first real accounting of ear counts, which is the best way to judge what yields will do. USDA uses stalk counts in their August estimates. You can find coverage from this year's tour in the upcoming September 2009 issue of Top Producer.
USDA's August report may have it right when it comes to estimating the size of the nation's corn crop. For the second year in a row, crop scouts on the Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour expected corn yields to fall below USDA's crop size estimates. But again this year, the scouts got a surprise when the more than 1,000 samples pulled from Midwest fields were finally tallied.
The corn yield projection for the Aug. 18–21 tour from South Dakota to Ohio is 155.36 bu./acre. Soybean pod counts were generally lower across the region than in 2007. Pro Farmer's yield estimate after the tour was 39.9 bu./acre.
There is incredible potential despite weather obstacles faced earlier this spring, says Chip Flory, Pro Farmer editor and leader of the Western Tour. But fields throughout the Midwest were dry and late in development during the tour the week of Aug. 18.
Not a sure thing
The thing that really makes this year different is the crop's lateness, making it more dependent than normal on weather. Flory says that and related factors caused Pro Farmer to make some adjustments to the calculated tour yield, resulting in a projected national average corn yield of 153.3 bu./acre.
Flory issues this caveat when looking at the numbers: "These estimates assume a normal finish to the growing season, including a normal first frost date. To allow for some changes in the weather and maturity of the crops, we're putting a range of plus or minus 1% on the corn estimate and plus or minus 2% on beans.”
Crops were far better than normal in South Dakota, where the western tour started, but conditions worsened as it entered Nebraska (see article, What a Year
Roger Bernard, news editor for Pro Farmer, led the Eastern Tour, from Columbus, Ohio, to Austin, Minnesota. The crop gradually improved as the tour worked west. Weather during development here is critical as well, and even good conditions may not be enough in the extreme Eastern Corn Belt.
"If there's ever a year you need a perfect finish, or a near-perfect finish, this is it,” Bernard says. "Mother Nature needs to smile on this crop this fall. I think a normal frost will hurt a big chunk of this crop. And I think even with a later-than-normal frost, some of the crop in Ohio will get nicked.
"Once we moved west in Indiana, we started seeing a crop that was gaining in maturity,” he adds. "It's still not where we want to see it for this time of year, but in much better shape. In Illinois, we started seeing some 200 bu./acre yields.
"Now, there's a contrast to what we saw a year ago,” he concludes. "In 2007 we saw a lot of fields that would have gone into the combine a month from the crop tour. We didn't see any of those this year.”
Top Producer, September 2008