We’ve had a week to let the dust settle and reflect on what we found on the Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour. More importantly, we’ve had a week to analyze data from the nearly 3,000 corn and soybean samples scouts helped us gather Aug. 19-22.
It’s an open-minded, fact-finding mission
The goal of Crop Tour is to get a strong, objective view of corn yield potential from one big corn field across seven Midwest states during the third full week of August. Still, it’s nearly impossible to block out all of the data we’ve gathered about the crop ahead of Tour. In fact, some of that data helps shape our opinion of crops outside the Tour areas.
Heading into this year’s Tour, we knew we would find an immature corn crop. The record-slow planting pace pushed back crop development. What we found was a crop that was at least a couple weeks behind, with the least mature fields needing around 45 days until they reach full maturity.
Data points to a sizably lower corn yield vs. last year
Tour data showed total ear counts on all 1,474 corn samples collected down 4.7% from last year at 94.39 in two adjacent 30-foot plots. Lower ear counts are the result of many acres of corn being planted into less-than-ideal conditions once farmers could finally get into fields. We found many fields to have skips in rows and plants that didn’t produce an ear — the product of the very wet spring and record planting delays. Reduced ear counts are the primary driver of this year’s lower yield potential.
Average grain length was also lower than last year at 6.71 inches, down 2.0%. Since we sampled a lot of immature corn, it’s difficult to know how much of the grain length we measured will be maintained through harvest.
Kernel rows around totaled 16.08, down 0.3% from 2018.
Average row width measured on Tour was 29.79 inches, up 0.2% from last year.
All four of the measurements we calculate on Crop Tour point to a smaller corn crop this year.
The average of all samples is our best number
As we’ve detailed in the past, we have two corn yield calculations that use the same raw data (ear counts, grain inches, kernel rows and row spacing). We report the results of the standard calculation during Crop Tour and in our final analysis because, over time, it has proven to be more accurate.
The second calculation attempts to adjust kernel size based on the number of kernel rows around the ear. (The higher the number of kernel rows, the smaller the kernel size.)
The average of all samples collected using the “standard” calculation was 171.22 bu. per acre, 1.71 bu. above USDA’s August estimate. The average from the “adjusted” yield calculation came in at 155.44 bu. per acre. The simple average of those two averages is 163.33 bu. per acre.
The Pro Farmer corn crop estimate at 163.3 bu. per acre is the midpoint of those two calculations. With a +/- 1% range, the Pro Farmer yield forecast is 161.7 bu. to 164.9 bu. per acre.
We went with the midpoint of the two averages because this year’s crop is much less mature than normal, meaning we measured more potential than actual yield. Our yield formula works best when the crop is more mature. We readily admit that. In years when crop maturity is slow, the “adjusted” yield formula works better than the “standard” yield formula. The fact we didn’t lean down from the midpoint of the two acknowledges the amount of potential that’s out there if the crop is allowed to finish, especially in South Dakota, Ohio and areas of Indiana and Illinois, where crop maturity is furthest behind.
Breaking down Tour corn samples by yield
Of the 1,474 corn samples we pulled, 773 (52.4%) were above 171.22 bu. per acre (the average of the standard yield calculation), while 701 (47.6%) were below that level.
Bottom line: We measured a lot of yield potential on this year’s Crop Tour. How much of that potential will be realized into the end of the growing season is still largely unknown and will depend on fall weather. An early end to the growing season would be devastating for a good portion of the Midwest corn crop. Even a normal end to the growing season would spell trouble for a sizable amount of the crop. This year’s crop needs extra weeks to maximize the yield potential we measured.
Soybean crop needs a lot of time, too
We don’t calculate a soybean yield with Crop Tour samples. Instead, we count pods in a 3-foot square. Reason: The number of pods it takes to make a bushel is different in each state. We found a very lightly podded soybean crop across the seven states we sampled. Simply, the “yield factory” isn’t there this year. There aren’t enough pods to produce a trendline yield — even if some of the blooms we saw on Crop Tour turn into viable pods and fill with beans.