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‘One of most mature crops’

By Staff | Aug 24, 2012

Chip Flory, standing, a crop scout on the Pro Farmer Tour, spoke to farmers crowding the Regional Events Center, Wednesday at the Clay County Fairgrounds in Spencer. He said there were many signs of plant cannibalization in northwest Iowa fields, which will reduce corn and soybean yields.

BY KAREN SCHWALLER

kschwaller@evertek.net

SPENCER — The western leg of the 2012 Pro-Farmer Midwest Crop Tour stopped in at the Clay County Regional Events Center in Spencer on Aug, 23 to discuss their findings with local corn and soybean growers.

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 wont be bin-busting, estimates show that western Iowa could be seeing a little more positive results than other parts of the Midwest.

About 100 scouts made up this year tour, with nine different routes running through seven Midwestern states from Aug. 20 to Aug. 23. The tour concentrates on the largest production counties in each state. States included Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio and South Dakota. The scouts came from all walks of life and from around the world–including a crop scout from London, England; various ag traders, Chicago Board of Trade representatives, media, crop insurance representatives, corn and soybean growers, and more.

The western leg of the tour left from Sioux Falls, S.D. and went to Grand Island, Neb., then to Nebraska City, to Spencer, Iowa and then to 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 Thursday.

“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, and crop scout on the tour “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 their yield estimates to those made by the USDA each year, and findings show that many of the years they are close to USDA 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 they run the same routes every year, and that those routes will not change so that their 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 100 bushels per acre difference in one row,” Flory said.

Flory said they are finding some 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. District 1 (Northwest) included Buena Vista, Cherokee, Clay, Dickinson, Emmet, Lyon, O’Brien, Osceola, Palo Alto, Plymouth, Pocahontas and Sioux counties. District 4 (West Central) included Audubon, Calhoun, Carroll, Crawford, Greene, Guthrie, Harrison, Ida, Monona, Sac, Shelby and Woodbury counties, and 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 x 3 square amounted to 970 in District 1, 894 in District 4 and 1044 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 this week, and yields there were between 159 and 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 Hwy. 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 (growing degree units) 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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