After seeing fields full of green snap and cracked soils, the fields of Western Iowa looked positively garden-like to Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour scouts.
“The plant health was good,” said scout Tony Mellenthin, who farms near Menomonie, Wis. “There was very little disease. There was no nitrogen deficiency, and in South Dakota and Nebraska, we saw a lot of that. And there was very little green snap in Iowa, compared to Nebraska.”
On Wednesday, Mellenthin traveled a route that hugged Iowa’s border with South Dakota, finding a rough average corn yield of 194 bushels per acre across 20 stops in eight counties.
But he may have gotten lucky. Other scouts reported disappointing numbers compared to 2015, with far fewer 200-bushel samples this year. “It’s healthy looking. All the corn looks good from the road,” said crop scout Lawrence Landsteiner, who farms in Minnesota. “You get in in there and it doesn’t look that good. There’s tip-back, and the stand isn’t there.”
Ear counts were down in Iowa’s district 1, which covers the 12 counties in the northwestern corner of the state, and district four, which includes the 12 counties in central western Iowa. Only district 7, which is composed of 9 counties in far southwest Iowa, posted an increase in ear count to 97.93.
That district, which includes Adair, Adams, Cass, Fremont, Mills, Montgomery, Page, Pottawattamie and Taylor counties, proved the star of Pro Farmer’s Iowa data released Wednesday. (Pro Farmer only releases data for three western Iowa districts on Wednesday; the final Iowa data will be released on Thursday night, along with final Minnesota numbers.)
In this district, the rough corn yield for 2016 jumped more than 25 bushels to 191.87 bpa, thanks to those higher ear counts and an increase in grain length to 6.98 inches, compared to 2015.
Iowa’s district one reported a rough corn yield of 189.70 in a tiny uptick from 2015, and district four posted a 181.07, which is a nearly four-bushel drop from 2015.
What could be holding Western Iowa back? Lower counts for stands and ears. “You kept getting one poor ear out of the three samples,” explained Roger Cerven, who farms in Stanton, Iowa. “It goes back to the wet, heavy cold weather that we had in late April. We lost the late emergers.”
Emily Flory, agronomist for the crop tour’s Western leg, agreed. “I think it had a lot to do with planting season this year,” she said. “Our emergence was very uneven this year. You’d find ear, ear, ear, and a little nub.”
As in Nebraska, it leaves scouts questioning USDA’s estimate for a record 197 bushel corn yield, at least based on what they saw in western Nebraska on Wednesday. “You really need three consistent ears to maintain the 197,” said Mellenthin. “To yield high, you need consistency. For a 197 (bushel per acre) state average, you have to be pretty good.”
Like corn, Iowa soybeans appear to be in good—just not great—shape. “The beans are going to be less than last year,” said Iowa farmer Cerven, whose route produced an average pod count of 1,116 in a 3’ x 3’ square. His route’s best soybean sample? 1,512 pods in a 3’ x 3’ square, taken in Adair County—which was also the site of their worst sample, with just 792 pods in that same space.
Overall, western Iowa soybeans appear to be holding, at least according to Pro Farmer data released on Wednesday. In district 1, scouts found an average 3’ x 3’ pod count of 1,226.21, which was just 13 pods higher than last year. In district four, however, pod counts fell slightly, dropping 15 pods to an average of 1,265.39. Lastly, in district seven, soybeans followed corn upwards, with a 3’ x 3’ pod count of 1,380.97, which represents an increase of 6.7% over 2015.
Unlike corn, the Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour does not estimate yield for soybeans, just potential for yield.
Scouts, who expected great things from Iowa’s soybean crops, found themselves surprised by lower than anticipated pod counts and fewer clusters of pods than in the past. “I think, Iowa should be able to average 1,100 to 1,200 pods (in a 3’x 3’ square), but we’ve had too many in the 950 range,” said crop scout Brent Judisch, who farms in Cedar Falls, Iowa. “It looks to me like there is too much distance between the nodes. We never stressed the beans, so they grew too fast.”
Some scouts also reported seeing sudden death syndrome in Iowa soybean fields.