Views on commodities and energy
Crop tour answers some questions, raises others
More than 70 crop scouts began making their way home from Austin, Minnesota, on Friday after a week of 10-hour-long workdays counting and measuring corn and soybean yield potential through seven top production states around the U.S. Midwest.
Based on the week’s findings in 2,100 fields and other data, tour leaders Pro Farmer newsletter released their 2008 corn and soybean production forecast early on Friday.
They projected U.S. corn production at 12.152 billion bushels with the average yield at 153.3 bushels per acre. Soybean production was pegged at 2.930 billion bushels with an average yield of 39.95 bushels per acre.
The corn estimate was below the U.S. Agriculture Department’s latest projection for 12.288 billion bushels and the soy production was under USDA’s 2.973 billion bushels forecast. USDA estimated the average corn yield at 155 bushels per acre and the soy yield at 40.5 bushels per acre as of August 1.
But much has changed in the Midwest over the past three weeks. What some referred to as near-ideal crop weather earlier in the growing season was no longer the case.
As the Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour’s two legs departed on Monday from Columbus, Ohio, and and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, crop scouts were already aware that variability and crop immaturity would be a big part of the story of this year’s corn and soybean crops. Scouts on the eastern leg quickly realized that dryness would be another major theme after finding gaping cracks in concrete-hard soils in most Ohio fields. The word was passed on to western scouts who were touring a surprisingly robust South Dakota corn crop and some of them remained sceptical until they saw for themselves as their routes moved east.
Crop scouts will always welcome cool, dry weather during the crop tour, but it was difficult not to feel compassion for farmers that had not received any rain at all since July. Meanwhile, crop development in some fields was as much three weeks behind the normal pace, setting the stage for some nail-biting in the weeks ahead of the average first frost dates, which range from late September to mid-October depending on location.
Tour organisers, farmers, and agronomists repeatedly stressed at evening meetings that most fields need rain immediately or else the yield estimates pulled from fields this week would begin eroding.
Signs of a soggy start to the growing season were all there too, from washed out plots and replanted acres to swathes of pale green leaves on corn plants, a sign shallow root systems and nitrogen loss. Tops of fields that would normally look flat and uniform were discoloured and filled with potholes. Soybeans were planted in washed out patches of corn fields in wavy rows.
All eyes now turn to the weather map. Soybeans need moisture to finish setting and filling pods. Corn needs just enough rain in the near term to add weight to undersized kernels, but not too much rain as that could slow down the crop’s already delayed development. And both crops will be racing for a photo finish in some areas, trying to get to the grain bin ahead of the first frost.