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July 24, 2012

Trip Report - Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska

Over the weekend I toured the western Corn Belt along the following route: Chicago to Cedar Rapids (IA), Waterloo (IA), Algona (IA), Blue Earth (MN), Redwood Falls (MN), Brookings (SD), Yankton (SD), Norfolk (NE), Freemont (NE), Carroll (IA), Ames (IA), Davenport (IA), and back to Chicago.

Iowa

  • In general, Iowa was worse than I expected. The best corn was about as expected, but the very poor corn was worse than I expected. There is a lot of variability, but the best corn I saw was in the north-central part of the state and the worse was in the western and eastern areas.
  • The conditions in Iowa are highly variable with the best corn being about average and the worst corn being extremely poor. It was too early to make an accurate yield check for the entire state, but I would say the yields will vary from 50-70 bu/ac to 180-190 bu/ac. The worst corn is the later planted corn and any corn planted on lighter soils.
  • The state is extremely dry and there will be significant kernel abortion if additional rainfall is not received very soon. Even in the best fields, there will be a significant portion of the plants that will not produce any ear at all. These plants currently have a little nubbin of an ear that will not produce any grain. In some of the fields I went in, maybe 10-15% or more of the plants will not produce an ear.
  • When you go into the corn field several rows, it was much worse than what it appeared from the highway and even from the outside few rows. Many of the fields looked OK from the road, but inside the field, the bottom leaves had turned brown, the ears were not as big, and the kernel abortion was worse.
  • The best soybeans in Iowa still have an average yield potential, but that will only be achieved if the crop receives additional moisture starting very soon. It is so dry in many areas that the soybeans were wilting even under moderately stressful weather.
  • Many of the soybeans are much shorter than normal, slow growing, and showing signs of extreme moisture stress. In the worse fields, it is going to be hard to harvest the soybeans because they will be too short.

Minnesota

  • In general, Minnesota was worse than I expected. The best corn in the state has an average yield potential and the worse corn has a very low yield potential. The yield range in Minnesota will vary from 40-50 bu/ac to 170-180 bu/ac.
  • The best part of the state is in the eastern regions and it gets progressively dryer and worse as you move west.
  • Much of the corn is just now pollinating and there will be significant kernel abortion if the moisture does not improve very soon. Even in the better areas there will be plants without any ears and this is more common as you move west in the state.
  • The soybeans in Minnesota got off to a good start, but their growth has slowed significantly as the soil moisture has turned dryer.
  • Many of the soybeans are now shorter than normal, slow growing, and there are signs of significant moisture stress.
  • The soybeans are blooming and starting to set pods, but moisture will be needed immediately to avoid poor pod filling.

South Dakota

  • The crops in South Dakota are much worse than I expected. In some areas, the crops were the worse I have ever seen in the state.
  • Non-irrigated crops in southeast South Dakota are a disaster. There is extreme variability in the crops with some corn fields still having maybe an average potential and other corn fields where the crop has already died and the yield will be zero. The later the corn was planted, the worse the condition.
  • Even the better corn is at risk of losing much of its present potential if it doesn't receive significant rainfall very soon. In many fields there were no ears at all and in the better fields, the corn is just now pollinating. If these better fields do not receive significant rainfall very soon, many of the pollinated kernels will be aborted.
  • Some of the soybean fields in South Dakota look as if they have not grown since they germinated. Many soybeans are still only 6-8" tall and under severe moisture stress.
  • There are patches in the soybean fields where the crop never germinated and the surrounding surviving plants are in the process of dying. It is going to be difficult to harvest the worst soybeans because they will be too short to get into the combine.

Nebraska

  • The crops in eastern Nebraska are much worse than I expected.
  • Non-irrigated corn in northeastern Nebraska is as bad as I have ever seen it in the state. The irrigated corn looks OK, but dryland corn is going to be a disaster. Irrigated corn yields should be average at best, but dryland corn yields will vary from zero to maybe 50 bu/ac.
  • The worse corn is already being cut for silage or fodder. In the fields that were being cut, there were no ears at all on the plants. The nutritional value of this "silage" will be extremely poor and I guess they are cutting it just so the cattle have something to eat.
  • The crops in east-central Nebraska around Omaha were better and it appeared that they had received some rainfall in the past, but a good crop this year means that the crop potential is average at best.
  • The soybeans in eastern Nebraska varied from average to dying. The irrigated soybeans looked OK, but the non-irrigated soybeans are extremely bad.
  • All the pastures have gone dormant and I did not see any green pastures in any areas of the western Corn Belt.

Summary

The crops in the western Corn Belt were much worse than I expected and there is a potential that this growing season could end up very badly! Much of the corn damage is already irreversible and if there is not significant rainfall very soon, even the best corn is going to lose some of its present potential. We had been hoping that the western Corn Belt could compensate for some of the problems in the east, but that is not going to happen. In fact, I thought some of the western areas were much worse than Illinois for example. Some of the best corn is in northern Illinois and some of the worse corn is in South Dakota and Nebraska.

The weather problems this year have been very widespread, from Ohio to South Dakota and from Michigan to Kansas. The variability is greater this year than during any year since 1988. Crop yields will vary from zero to average making it very difficult in calculating a nationwide yield.

The soybeans have not been hurt as much as the corn has been, at least not yet. The critical time for soybeans is now starting as the crop starts to fill pods. In the worse areas, the pod filling will be very poor and farmers will be harvesting little BB-sized soybeans instead of normal size soybeans. The crops are developing at an extremely fast pace and the harvest will start early for both corn and soybeans. There are some fields of soybeans where the plants are already starting to turn yellow (or maybe they are dying, it's hard to tell the difference).

I always talk about how the lawns in the rural areas are an indication of just how dry conditions have become. Over the weekend, I drove 26 hours through the heart of the Corn Belt and I saw a total of 3 people cutting grass and I suspect those three individuals were just looking for something to do! Out in the countryside, it looks and feels like it is September, it's hot and dry, everything is brown, and some of the leaves are starting to fall.