Pro Farmer promises nothing to scouts on its annual Midwest Crop Tour but hard work, long days and the chance to get really dirty. For most, it does not sound like the best way to spend a week in mid-August.
It was a case of keys being accidentally locked in the car, a cut to the finger by a corn leaf and a chat about hail damage at a scouting stop on the Pro Farmer crop tour on Tuesday in Carlton, Nebraska.
And thus, the monotony of scouting a seemingly-endless number of corn and soybean fields in the Midwest grain belt was broken, momentarily, by these incidents.
At the stop in Carlton, a U.S. Agriculture Department official, in the car behind ours, accidentlly locked his keys in his rented Hyundai.
Then, this reporter deeply sliced his finger on the leaf of a corn stalk.
While the government man borrowed a phone from another scout to call the rental company and I dressed my wound with a wet napkin and a bandage, the farmer whose bean field we were scouting pulled up in his pickup.
Then, Rich Mosier, a broker with brokerage and research company Allendale, Inc., passing through from his home in Davenport, Iowa, stopped for a chat.
All of the sudden, it was a veritable meeting of the minds on the side of Highway 4.
With a locksmith on his way, talk returned to farming.
Scout Elwood Line, our driver and a farmer from northeast Illinois, asked if Carlton farmer John Lange was a ‘John Deere’ man, referring to the farm machinery maker Deere & Co.
“Both — John Deere and International,” Lange said. “International combine and a John Deere head.”
Mosier said the crops in this area, especially the dryland fields, were first hammered by hail and are now thirsty for rain.
“The dryland has suffered the last three weeks. We haven’t had any big rains,” Mosier said.
After about 45 minutes, the locksmith showed up to jimmy the door of the Sonata.
Asked how he was doing, the locksmith replied, “Better than you, I guess.”
Corn yield in the field we scouted was projected at 193 bushels per acre, while the soybean count was 1,034 pods in a 3-by-3 foot area.
If you’re planning on coming on next year’s Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour, better start stocking up on supplies now. It takes a lot of equipment to measure a few ears of corn and count soybean pods. Scouts on the annual tour must be ready for nearly anything when they head into fields to gather data for estimates of this year’s corn and soybean harvest.
U.S. farmers could set a record for soybean plantings this year, topping 2008′s 75.7 million acres. The Agriculture Department will release its initial projection of seedings later this week. Some economists see plantings of 79 million acres (32.9 million ha) given that market prices and production costs currently favor soybeans.
Oil prices are rising as Hurricane Ike moves within 24 hours of striking the coast near Houston with a possible 20-foot (6-meter) wall of water. A slew of oil refineries located in Galveston Bay that account for around 12 percent of U.S. capacity were also in the storm’s likely path. Weather forecasters at Planalytics saw “major and long-term damage likely at the major refining cities.”
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.
Farmers around the U.S. Midwest hope that this year’s growing season will stretch out a few days longer than usual into the fall to make up for the slow start to the growing season. Corn and soybean crops around the U.S. Midwest are depending on a warm and rainy finish to the growing season to reach the full potential predicted by crop scouts on the Pro Farmer Midwest Tour.