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Variability abounds in fields and crop reports

Article cover photo
Recent Farm Journal Midwest Crop Tour results call for lower crop production numbers than previous USDA estimates. (Photo: Joseph Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Matthew Wilde, ISA senior writer

Farmers expect the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to lower crop production numbers next week based on conditions and recent Farm Journal Midwest Crop Tour results.

Then again, the USDA surprised growers and analysts in August with a robust Crop Production Report.

“I think the USDA yield estimates are high,” said Larry Marek, a Riverside farmer and member of the United Soybean Board. “I’m looking forward to numbers coming down. They took a lot of dollars out of the market that shouldn’t be gone.”

The September report will be released Tuesday at 11 a.m. Central Standard Time.

Even though drought conditions plague much of the western Corn Belt, including Iowa, and cold, wet conditions hampered planting and early plant development in much of the eastern Corn Belt, the USDA predicted a record soybean crop nationwide and the third-highest corn yield and production number on record.

The government projects the national soybean crop at 4.38 billion bushels, averaging 49.4 bushels per acre. Iowa is pegged at 557 million bushels, averaging 56 bushels per acre — near-records for both.

U.S. corn production is forecast at 14.2 billion bushels, with an average yield of 169.5 bushels per acre. Iowa production is estimated at 2.46 billion bushels, averaging 188 bushels per acre.

Yield estimates from the Farm Journal Midwest Crop Tour were not as optimistic. Tour scouts surveyed fields in Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio from Aug. 21-24.

Advisory service Pro Farmer, based in Cedar Falls and a division of Farm Journal Media, projects the U.S. average soybean yield at 48.5 bushels per acre. Production is pegged at 4.331 billion bushels. Iowa’s average yield is estimated at 53.5 bushels per acre.

For corn, Pro Farmer predicts nationwide production at 13.953 billion bushels, averaging 167.1 bushels per acre. Pro Farmer estimated Iowa’s average yield is projected at 183 bushels per acre, which takes into account tour results and other factors. When only considering 452 tour samples, a nearly 180-bushel-per-acre statewide yield average is predicted.

Marek has faith in Pro Farmer’s yield predictions. He attended the tour reception in Coralville.

“They are methodical … more basis behind their estimates than the USDA,” he added.

Tour scouts calculate soybean pods in 3-by-3 foot squares, along with looking at row spacing, growth stage and soil moisture. For corn, ears are counted in two adjacent 30-foot rows. Grain length, kernel rows around and row spacing is also considered.

Given USDA’s shocking August report, Pro Farmer Editor Brian Grete said there was “quite a bit” of anticipation surrounding this year’s tour results.

“We’re not out to disprove the USDA, but we feel numbers will come down a bit in the September report,” Grete said.

Based on early- and late-season weather conditions throughout the Midwest, he said yield variability is rampant. Maybe even more so in Iowa.

Crop tour corn yield estimates this year exceeded the three-year average in only three of Iowa’s nine Crop Districts — 3, 5 and 7. Soybean pod counts are down nearly 11 percent statewide. Only Districts 3 and 6 are higher than the three-year average.

In District 9, 31 soybean samples were taken. The pod count this year averaged 1,077.65 compared to the three-year average of 1,475.33.

“Even though the number of pods to make a bushel changes among states, it gives an idea of the yield factory,” Grete said. “It’s down in Iowa.”

Some timely moisture could still plump up soybeans in pods, but time is fleeting as the days grow shorter and plants continue to mature and shut down.

The latest USDA Iowa Crop Progress and Condition Report rated 61 percent of soybeans and 62 percent of corn in good to excellent condition. A slight improvement from the three previous weekly reports.

Sixty percent of Iowa’s corn has reached the dent stage and 18 percent of soybeans are turning color.

Chuck White, ISA Board member and farmer from Spencer, said 6 inches of rain in August saved his soybeans but yields will be down.

“There are not as many four-bean pods as past years,” White said. “We need some good weather for the completion of pod fill.”

He said Pro Farmer’s yield estimates are better than the USDA since they are done later in August. USDA’s latest estimates are based on conditions as of Aug. 1.

“As far as the soybean yields, both USDA and Pro Farmer can miss it since the weather will determine how good the final pod fill will be, which determines final yield,” White added.

For permission to republish articles or to request high-res photos contact Aaron Putze at

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