Unstructured Finance

Crop scouts bond over corn yields, long car trips

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.

But the tour attracts a group of regulars who come back every year to gauge the potential of corn and soybeans around the region as well as reconnect with people they met on previous tours.

“I am still interested in what the crops are doing and we learn a lot,” said Rodney Frick, an Illinois farmer on his fourth crop tour.  “But it is also about the friendships we form.”

 

 

 

Frick joined his first tour in 2005 after getting back into farming full time following 12 years working construction. He has come back every year since, although this year he will have to cut out a little bit early to attend his daughter’s wedding.Corn storage barn in Illinois

 

The welcome session on the first night of the tour, when scouts get their marching orders for the week, often feels like the first day of camp. Veteran scouts swap war stories about how their crops are growing and share laughs about past tours.

Crop Tour-How We Do It

Calculating corn yieldsThere is no one magic formula for unlocking the secrets of a corn field’s yield potential. There are lots of them.

 

“There are about as many yield formulas as there are ways of doing anything,” said Roger Bernard,  the leader of the eastern leg of the Pro Farmer Midwest crop tour.

 

The basic equation involves multiplying the total corn area by the plant population and dividing by the number of rows.

Stocking up for the Crop Tour

Crop Tour SuppliesIf 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.

Let’s start at the bottom – boots.  Solid footwear is essential for tromping through rows of corn, many of which are expected to be muddy due to surplus rainfall around the Corn Belt. More storms are in the forecast for this week, good for crops but bad for crop scouts. A raincoat and pair of waterproof pants can make the difference between merely a bad day and a miserable one if it storms during the tour.

Sunglasses also are important, even on a rainy day, to protect your eyes from sharp edges of corn leaves. To further guard against the elements, scouts coat themselves in sun block and bug spray every morning.
To be sure, many scouts are farmers who are used to loading up on such supplies before heading to work. But for scouts who are grain traders or journalists, the equipment is not part of their normal job description.

Grain markets flashing warning signs

Another food price spike could be on the horizon, analysts told Reuters. 
 
Consider these factors:
* Grain prices, led by soybeans, have been up since March. 
* South America’s crop is expected to be a disappointment. Crops in both Brazil and Argentina have a poor outlook. In fact, the U.S. Agriculture Department steadily lowered its forecast for Argentina’s soybean crop throughout the year.

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* Many will be looking to the United States to come through with a big crop. But U.S. soybean stocks began the 2009/10 marketing year at a five year low. That means there’s not a lot of surplus to keep prices level if there’s any type of disruption in supply or weather calamity.

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Signs of an economic recovery, which are just now beginning to be realized, would be threatened if the world were to face soaring food prices reminiscent of last year. 
 
“It would not be what the financial media is describing today as a green shoot,” said Rich Feltes, senior vice president at MF Global Research. “It’s going to be a green shoot that’s being killed with Roundup Ready herbicide. It’s not going to be good.”

U.S. soy planting record possible, corn out of reach

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.

Most expect corn plantings to lose ground as global recession takes the shine off demand from livestock and ethanol. But it would be daunting to break the U.S. corn plantings record even if the biofuels boom were re-ignited.

Corn seedings hit 93.5 million acres (37.8 million ha) in 2007 in a land rush to profit on ethanol. Although it was the largest total since 1943, it ranks 16th at USDA. The largest corn planting on record is a giant 113 million acres in 1932 — 21 percent larger than 2007. It may not give a full picture of corn-growing in America.

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