DECATUR, Illinois (DTN) -- I'm living in a lush garden this year. Another 1.75 inches of rain fell on my central Illinois home yesterday and some of the surrounding area got as much as 4 inches. That should be enough to make the kernels and pods fill into a central and south central Illinois bin buster. We had only a brief period of dry conditions during July, but the nights were downright chilly during that time. We've barely turned the lawnmowers off this summer.
Last week I scouted the western leg of the Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour. That trip took me through parts of South Dakota, Nebraska, western Iowa and southern Minnesota. DTN Markets Editor Katie Micik traveled the eastern side of the tour -- Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Eastern Iowa and parts of Minnesota.
Those who followed our coverage know the anticipation of finding monster yields was huge going into the 2014 tour. Yet the continuing theme from most of the scouts seemed to be that the crop is "Good, not great." I don't agree.
For one thing, the crop tour barely dips below I-72 -- the belt that dissects central Illinois. From my travels this summer, I predict those highly anticipated 200-plus yields lie mostly south of that line. Don't discount Missouri either -- which had the highest percentage of excellent crops in USDA's most recent Crop Progress report. The best dryland yields I pulled on the western leg were along the Iowa/Missouri border -- several samples measured over 200 bushel per acre (bpa).
I have learned the hard way never to overly brag up any experience to my husband and children. Every time I build that expectation, they invariably come away underwhelmed. I was continually reminded of this each night as we heard scouts report being "disappointed" in average yields that fell in the 170-bpa range.
Pro Farmer's massaged final yield estimates put Illinois state yield at 198 bpa. That tops USDA's August yield estimate of 188 bpa. Both of those numbers sound pretty darn great to me.
Yup, we saw some nasty fields in the west. However, nearly every field found struggling was the result of some horrific, regionalized weather event. Sections of Nebraska stood stripped by multiple hail events. (See http://on.fb.me/…) I feel for those farmers and I know it's painful, but those disasters won't wipe out big crops elsewhere.
Overall this was the healthiest crop I've seen in, well ... maybe ever. In corn, there was a smattering of leaf disease and some Goss's wilt resulting from earlier wind or hail damage. I saw a few corn rootworms and corn aphids, but nothing economic. We noted a few spots of SDS and white mold starting in a few soybean fields.
Low yielding fields were generally those that did not have the ear counts necessary to make yields pop. We can only guess what happened in some of those fields, but late freezes may be responsible for some of the skips. The double ear syndrome that so many have talked about this year is also probably due to those light populations.
We also saw some yellow fields due to loss of nitrogen leaching. It wasn't hard to find the fields with drainage problems.
Waterhemp was a biggest agronomic concern on the western portion of the tour. We found much of Nebraska and a good section of Iowa heavily infested with waterhemp. (See http://on.fb.me/…) I realize wet weather makes spraying tough and some of those damaged areas may not have seemed worth the cost of additional herbicides, but next year will be tough if what we saw goes to seed (and that was already happening).
Crop maturity is a concern -- particularly in Minnesota where late planting has combined with low temps. Much of the Minnesota corn we found was in the milk stage. (See http://on.fb.me/…)
"It would be wonderful if we could get to October 10 up in South Dakota, northern Iowa and southern Minnesota without a frost to let the bean crop be everything that it could be," said Pro Farmer Editorial Director Chip Flory. He wasn't too concerned about corn maturity, except in southern Minnesota.
Ohio's crop is young too, but the big Illinois corn crop is made. The only concern is the crop is extremely tall and the ear set is high. A delayed harvest or allowing fields to dry prior to harvest could spell trouble. "It would be a crying shame to see some 250 bushel whole farm yields laying flat on the ground," Flory added.
It's really hard to bump those national average corn yields to the 170 to 172 bpa that some are predicting. We will need big yields in the big corn production states to get there.
However, what I saw on this tour was consistency -- the bottom yields we sampled could end up being as important as the top because they aren't going to drag averages much. In general, plant health was good and we've had some heat units accumulating of late. The factory is working and we're set up for some good test weights in many areas.
What runs through the combine is what will ultimately count, but I'm flying my Illinois flag. This could just be the year we see just how big an average corn crop can be in this state.
Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.email@example.com
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