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Pro Farmers deem 2012 corn ‘one of most mature crops’

By Staff | Aug 23, 2012

CHIP FLORY, gesturing, hosted the Aug. 22 Pro Farmer tour gathering at the Clay County Fairgrounds in Spencer. The tour evaluated the condition and potential yield for corn and soybeans across the Corn Belt.



SPENCER – The western leg of the 2012 Pro-Farmer Midwest Crop Tour stopped at the Clay County Regional Events Center in Spencer on Aug. 22 to update area farmers of crop conditions found within Iowa and surrounding states.

It was no surprise to hear that Iowa yields are down this year. Northwest Iowa corn yields are estimated to be down 10 percent, while soybean predictions are down 12 percent, according to data collected by the Pro-Farmer scouts. But even though yields won’t be bin-busting, estimates show that western Iowa could be seeing a little more positive results than other parts of the Midwest.

The 2012 tour, with 100 crop scouts, worked its way through nine routes across seven Midwestern states from Aug. 20 to Aug. 23. The tour concentrates on the largest production counties in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio and South Dakota.

“Our GDU’s are 250 to 350 units ahead of pace, and so we’re 10 to 15 days ahead. Those stress degree days will have a big impact on yields. Anything above 86 degrees makes the plant shut down.” -Nick Hanson Estherville-area agronomist

The scouts came from around the world, including London, England. Others included ag traders, Chicago Board of Trade representatives, media, crop insurance representatives and corn and soybean growers.

The western leg of the tour left from Sioux Falls, S.D. and went to Grand Island, Neb., then to Nebraska City, Neb., to Spencer, and end in Owatonna, Minn. The eastern leg of the tour left from Columbus, Ohio to Fishers, Ind., then on to Bloomington, Ill., to Iowa City and then met up with the western leg in Owatonna, Minn., on Aug. 23.

“This is one of the most mature crops we’ve ever seen (at this time of year),” said Chip Flory, Cedar Falls, editor of Pro-Farmer: newsletter, crop scout on the tour and host of the presentation. “I don’t think we’ve ever seen a crop this poor (overall). The USDA does a great job in estimating yield potential. It’s an unbelievably difficult job to estimate yield averages over millions of acres of corn.”

Pro-Farmer compares yield estimates from the fields compared to USDA’s estimates each year. the tour’s findings are frequently consistent with USDA’s estimates.

Pro-Farmer does not estimate soybean yields because the number of seeds per pod and seed weight are impossible to measure on this type of tour, according to tour officials.

Flory said the tour covers the same routes every year, and that those routes will not change so that the statistics can remain consistent and comparable from year to year. Though the routes don’t change, the scouts are not told to stop at specific places, removing any bias from the data collected.

“This year we’ve seen places on this tour where there might be a 100-bushel-per-acre difference in one row,” Flory said.

Flory said they are finding small kernels, though not consistently throughout the Midwest. They don’t make adjustments in their findings for kernel size. Corn stalk quality is poor almost everywhere, he said, and scouts saw much cannibalization of corn and soybean plants due to drought conditions and extreme heat, along with bean pod abortion.

Flory isn’t hopeful that August rains now are going to help the soybean crop, because pod counts are down and there are fewer beans inside the pods at this late date.

Data for western Iowa collected by the Pro-Farmer Midwest Crop Tour was divided into seven districts, with three districts being completed at the time of this writing. These include:

  • District 1 (Northwest) with the counties of Buena Vista, Cherokee, Clay, Dickinson, Emmet, Lyon, O’Brien, Osceola, Palo Alto, Plymouth, Pocahontas and Sioux.
  • District 4 (Westcentral) with the counties of Audubon, Calhoun, Carroll, Crawford, Greene, Guthrie, Harrison, Ida, Monona, Sac, Shelby and Woodbury.
  • District 7 (Southwest) included the counties of Adair, Adams, Cass, Fremont, Mills, Montgomery, Page, Pottawatamie and Taylor.

District 1 showed a soybean pod count of 680 pods in three feet, compared to 553 in District 4 and District 7. Pods in a 3-fot-by-3-foot square amounted to 970 in District 1, 894 in District 4 and 1,044 in District 7. These figures are all down significantly from the district’s three-year averages taken during 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Corn yield estimates were at 159 bushels per acre in District 1, 143 bushels per acre in District 4 and 137 bushels per acre in District 7.

These figures are also down significantly from the three-year averages, taken in the same years.

Flory and his crew saw a combine running in corn near Storm Lake on Aug. 22, and found the yield monitor reading 159 to 170 bushels per acre. Field moisture there decreased from 33 percent on Aug. 9 to 21 percent on Aug. 22.

The route from Nebraska City to Spencer saw a few fields that were harvested once they got onto U.S. Highway 59.

“They’re harvesting in blocks,” said Jason Franck, western tour consulting agronomist from Rowley. “That could be because of aflatoxins that they may be sorting off and putting into different bins.”

He said as they proceeded north they started to see more stalk issues and cannibalization.

“I’m surprised some of the fields we saw weren’t harvested,” he said. “Some of the stalks fell over when we walked by. With this cannibalization were going to see significant harvest loss with ears and pods on the ground.”

Going even further north, he said stalks greened up a little bit, but that along the route between Nebraska City and Spencer, the soybean fields looked good, but that pod counts were off, with pods amounting to half of what would normally be seen on a good year. He said they also saw some flat pods, even though canopies looked good. He said there isn’t a lot of hope that the plants will be making more pods.

Pods on that route averaged about 1,050, with the high count being 1,973 in Clay County, and the low count being 335 in Ida County. The average corn yield estimate was 137, with the low estimate coming from Ida County at 84 bushels, and the high coming from Cherokee County at 178 bushels.

Nick Hanson, field agronomist for Northwest Iowa based out of Estherville, said many factors contributed to the harvest issues producers will be seeing, including a large range in planting dates, stress during pollination – affecting grain fill, and a hot and dry growing season. Crop stress factors included soil types, fertility, and drainage ability, among others.

“We started with an empty tank this year,” he said of the rainfall in Northwest Iowa, which is 2 to 7 inches less than normal.

“Our GDU’s are 250 to 350 units ahead of pace, and so we’re 10 to 15 days ahead. Those stress degree days will have a big impact on yields. Anything above 86 degrees makes the plant shut down.”

Other harvest issues he sees besides stalk lodging include ear droppage, a wide range in moisture levels, and ear molds, including aflatoxins. He advised growers to check with their crop insurance adjustors about their policies for that.

“You may be on your own if you check your bin full of grain and it registers high for aflatoxins,” he said. “Have your insurance adjustor come out and check your fields.”

Hanson said his picks for corn and soybeans that will have the advantage this harvest season will be the earlier-planted corn, and the 105-day soybeans that flower in 97 days. Regardless, he said the story is yet to be told.

“Yield monitors will be entertaining this year,” he said.

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