It’s better than good, but is it a record crop? That was the question scouts on the Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour were trying to answer as they headed into the big corn and soybean states on Wednesday.
Scouts on the western leg of the tour who drew the southern route in Iowa (District 7) won out Wednesday as yields in the region were at the top of today’s projections for Iowa at 191.87 bushels per acre — up 15.4% over last year. District 7 is in the southwestern corner of the state and that area struggled with heavy rains and late planting in 2015. Over the past three years those southwest Iowa counties had a tour average of 169 bpa.
Soybeans on the western side were looking tough Wednesday after enduring storms that included winds and pounding rains. Still, the area which includes the counties of Pottawattamie, Mills, Fremont, Page, Montgomery, Cass, Adair, Adams and Taylor bested the three reports today with a pod count of 1,380.97, slightly higher than last year’s 1,296.49 estimate.
Only three western Iowa districts were revealed tonight — the remaining state yield projections will be reported Thursday evening. Corn in District 1 (Lyon, Sioux, Plymouth, Osceola, O’Brien, Cherokee, Buena Vista, Clay, Emmet, Palo Alto, Pocahontas) was estimated at 189.7 bpa, up .8% over last year.
West-central district 4 (Woodbury, Ida, Sac, Calhoun, Monona, Crawford, Carroll, Greene, Harrison, Shelby, Audubon, Guthrie) was measured to have a potential of 181.07 bpa, down 2.1% from last year.
Although overall plant health looked good in most cornfields and population levels seemed adequate in most fields, about every fourth ear or so was small. Farmers in the Spencer, Iowa, audience talked of a wet, cold spring and seed that sat in the soil several weeks before germinating. Those conditions resulted in uneven emergence and those plants that emerged late became the equivalent of weeds. Iowa farmers also reported that fields that got replanted benefited.
Soybeans were tall, but pods were filled better than western scouts found in neighboring Nebraska. Late flushes of waterhemp were starting to poke above the canopy in many fields, while others were clean as a whistle. “It’s not hard to tell the guys that put a pre-emergence product down,” said Emily Carolan, DuPont Pioneer agronomy consultant. Sudden death syndrome is starting to show up in some soybean fields.
One thing that has become clear is yield variability in Iowa isn’t coming from weeds, insects or diseases, but from weather conditions. From cool, wet early conditions to hot summer nights — there have been lots of extremes this year that led to stand uniformity and emergence issues. Hot temperatures caused some grain fill issues.
From the road, the crop looks great, noted scout Lawrence Landsteiner, a farmer from Minnesota Lake, Minnesota. “It’s a bumper crop from the road, but you have to get out and look to see what’s out there,” Landsteiner said.
USDA’s August estimate pegged Iowa at 197 bpa and that has had scouts asking whether Iowa can meet the challenge. Jay Merryman, a scout from Panora, Iowa, said last year the state had a wow crop. “We’ve got a very good crop in both corn and soybeans, but I’m not sure it’s a wow crop,” Merryman said.
One-hundred-eighty-one samples pulled in Illinois over Tuesday and Wednesday calculated an average projected yield of 193.50 bushels per acre. That’s 18.5 bushels per acre larger than USDA’s final number for the 2015 crop and suggests Illinois might not achieve the 200 bpa yield forecast by USDA, which also happens to be the same as the state’s record yield in 2014. Tour scouts in 2014 estimated an average of 196 bpa.
Crop District 4 in the state had the highest average yield of 198.80 bpa. This district encompasses central Illinois from McLean County in the east to Peoria and Mason counties in the west, and stretches from Marshall and Stark counties in the north to Mason, Logan and Menard counties in the south.
The results confirmed the perspective from scout Joe Wise, an Indiana farmer. He said before the numbers were released he believed northern and central Illinois had above-average crops, but he questioned the overall USDA yield projection of 200 bpa statewide because southern parts of Illinois generally pull lesser yields. Wise happened to be on a scout team that sampled District 4.
“The yields were what we expected, you know what I mean?” Wise said. “I think they are going to have a very, very good year, but knowing some of the weather southern Illinois had, I don’t know if they can keep that yield up in the state. I saw very good stuff and I expect very good things out of Illinois this year.”
For soybeans, scouts count pods instead of measure yields because the soybean crop is not as mature as the corn crop at this stage. Statewide in Illinois, pods in a three-foot-by-three-foot area averaged a 1,318 count, up 10.7% from last year. Pod counts in different districts ranged from a low of 1,108 in southeast Illinois to a high of 1,498 in the east-central district of the state.
While eastern Iowa numbers won’t be released until Thursday evening, scouts such as Wise were pointing out soybean fields east of Coralville which showed signs of serious problems with sudden death syndrome.
Scouts on both legs of the tour dealt with heavy showers early Wednesday and muddy field conditions throughout the day. A veteran scout with at least a dozen years on the tour, Wise said he believed the road trip is worth a day or two traipsing through muddy corn and soybean fields. “I didn’t enjoy going around in the rain, of course, but I enjoy being around the other scouts and learning how they live and what they are like,” Wise said. “You know what I mean?”
On Thursday, scouts on both legs of the tour will move through the rest of Iowa and also sample in southern Minnesota as the tour wraps up Thursday evening in Rochester, Minn.