Western Tour Day Two from Chip Flory

August 18, 2008 07:00 PM

From the Rows

There's a reason we wait until the second day of sampling in Nebraska before "passing judgement" on the state. I'll be honest, I was holding back a bit yesterday from talking about what we saw in northeast Nebraska. It was disappointing. Maturity of the crop is way behind a normal pace and ear counts in irrigated fields were generally disappointing. On Monday, the best result I found was just north of Grand Island where we saw a cornfield that will yield over 200 bu. per acre. But... I was "down" on the Nebraska corn crop after yesterday.

After today, I'm not nearly as "sour" on the Nebraska corn crop. The route I ran today pulled 21 corn samples and 21 soybean samples. The dryland corn we sampled was very good... even close to excellent. The 10 dryland samples we pulled today averaged 141 bu. per acre. The irrigated corn was better... the 11 irrigated samples we pulled averaged 170 bu. per acre. That's a great dryland yield, but it sure would have been nice to see another 10 bu. per acre on the irrigated corn.

What was the problem? It had to be poor planting conditions, or poor emergence conditions or some seedling blights of somekind that resulted in a slightly-lower-than normal irrigated ear count across the state. There were some disappointing ear lengths and even one (yes... just one) irrigated cornfield that must have pollinated at the wrong time. Ears were "shot-gunned" with kernels and pinched at the butt of the ear. Those lost kernels at the bottom of the ear suggests the problem with the pollination in this field was silk-clipping. But... generally speaking, the ear counts were just a bit disappointing in the state.

And the "official" data showed that to be true. The average ear count in 60-foot of row this year was 79.49, down from last year's 80.82 ears and just under the three-year average of 79.61. The average grain length this year was 6.81, below last year's 7.06 inches, but equal to the three-year average. Average kernel rows around the ear was 16.29 rows, better than last year's 15.97 k-rows and the three-year average k-row of 15.91. Which brings us to the average yield...

We wrapped up Nebraska with an average yield of 141.82 bu. per acre. That's down about 3.6% from last year. And don't forget the historical error for the state... it's big (but very consistent) at 16.31 bu. too low. So, if we add that historical error to today's results, it suggests a Nebraska yield of about 158 bu. per acre.

That's below USDA's Aug. 1 yield estimate of 163 bu. per acre. But, the thing that really concerns me in the state is the trend. The Tour has an excellent history of "calling the trend" for the state. USDA's Aug. 1 yield was up 1.9% from year-ago... but the Crop Tour is down 3.6% from year-ago. I'm betting on (can you guess!?!) the Tour results. The reason is simple... like I said, the Crop Tour does an excellent job of calling the year-to-year trend in the Nebraska corn yield.

I kept feeling that it was deja-vu all over again when I sampled soybean fields in Nebraska. And, like I've said many times, Nebraska growers have really figured out how to grow soybeans. In fact, it's tough for me to imagine a year that Nebraska won't average at least 50 bu. per acre. To do that, conditions would have to be very poor early in the season and put the crop at a disadvantage for the entire growing season -- which is basically what happened this year.

Pod counts in Nebraska were good... they averaged 1136.08 in a 3-by-3-foot square. That's down just 0.6% from last year's 1143.69 pods in "the square." That fits exceptionally well with USDA's Aug. 1 yield estimate for Nebraska soybeans. It put the crop at 50 bu. per acre, down 1% from last year's 50.5 bu. per acre. So, just looking at the pod counts, I shouldn't have any argument with USDA over the Nebraska bean yield estimate.

However... there are two big differences between this year and 2007. First, this year's bean crop development is well behind last year's. There are plenty of pods, but they are smaller and the beans inside the pods are much smaller than we saw last year (flat pods this year versus fat pods last year). Second... and I said this many times last year... at this time of the year, topsoil moisture in an immediately available postion for the bean plant is unbelievably important in building a big yield. Last year as we trekked across Nebraska, I said many times, "Do not underestimate the yield potential of a bean crop when we've got mud on our boots during Tour."

This year, there wasn't much mud. The only mud I collected on the bottom of my boots today was in an irrigated field and the pivot had just passed my sample location. It's dry in southeast Nebraska and the dry conditions got consistently worse as we worked our way eastward from Grand Island. By the time we got to the dryland-dominant areas in far-eastern Nebraska, the bean crop was struggling and trying to "catch a break." If the area gets a good rain in the next 10 days, the bean crop has the potential to match last year's yield in the state. But, I'd hate to see the crop wait that long for some moisture. A rain tomorrow would be great... a rain yesterday would have been much better.

For the corn in southeast Nebraska, maturity is far enough along to be confident in its yield potential. For soybeans, that's not the case. Give it some water and keep the frost away until Oct. 1 and I'll be really confident in the ability of the Nebraska bean crop to post another average yield with a "5" handle.

Generally speaking...

It is very important to keep the trends from the entire Tour in perspective. The Ohio corn crop came in a bit below expectations, but I think we "found those bushels" in South Dakota. The Indiana corn crop came in above expectations, but I think we "lost those bushels" in Nebraska. So we've got four of the seven Tour states done and each state has given us a "yield surprise," but I think all we're really doing is moving bushels around the Midwest... lose some, gain some, lose some, gain some. When everything is said and done... we've basically just held the crop steady with USDA's Aug. 1 national crop yield and estimate. That, however, may change. We've got to get the results from Illinois on Wednesday, from Iowa on Thursday and from Minnesota on Thursday. If one of those states "bucks" the anticipated trend, it could move the Midwest yield.

On to Spencer...

My crew on the western leg of the Tour will be sampling western Iowa tomorrow. We're responsible for everything west of Ft. Dodge. When we wrap up tomorrow, the eastern Tour will just be getting into east-central and southeast Iowa. They finish up Iowa on Thursday, so we'll have to wait until then to figure out the state.

Oh, and by the way...

We figured out a couple of things today... the same guy that gets lost in a corn field can be sitting in a car on the side of the road when a Nebraska State Trooper eases up behind the car just to make sure everything is "okay." But, when you're standing in a corn field and hear the words, "Hello, officer" -- it tends to raise the anxiety level!

The people we meet!

We had a great meeting with a grower in Thayer County. He pulled in behind us, stepped out of his truck walked right up and said, "I'm gonna get me some free information!" Obviously... we were more than willing to give him everything we knew. At the same time, we did a little digging. After figuring the corn yield estimate from his irrigated field, I asked him what his five-year yield average would be on "this piece of ground." His answer, "220, but I think we'll be 25 or 30 bu. short of that this year." I showed him my calculator that showed our best yield of the day... 195.1 bu. per acre. This guy knew what he had in his field!!! Then I did the pod count and did a little extra figuring in an attempt to put a yield on the pod counts. I calculated a 63.5 bu. per acre for his bean field... then asked him if he'd be happy with 73-bu. beans. His eyes got a little wide and he said, "Well, that would be about 10 bu. better than we usually get off our irrigated beans!" Then I showed him the calculator... he just grinned and said, "That's what it should be."

Our last stop in Otoe County was also an interesting stop. The fields we stopped by were terraced... something one of the non-farming scouts with me today didn't really understand. So, we took advantage of a teaching opportunity and started to explain how and why some hill-country fields are terraced. Obviously, the non-farming scout thought it was "pretty cool." It was "really cool" when the landowner came up behind us on his 4-wheeler. We talked for a while about season-long conditions and he told us the plane is booked to spray insecticide on the bean field we sampled. The aphid pressure on this field was heavy... but the only reason he was spraying is because this field is still blooming. That's just more evidence of how tough the planting season was in eastern Nebraska. These beans didn't get planted until after mid-June. But, the next terrace down, the corn was planted on time in early May. The corn looked great... but for the beans, I hope he gets enough off those acres to pay for the bug dope that's going to be dropped on those aphids Wednesday morning.

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