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September 5, 2012

Trip report - Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri

Before the remnants of Hurricane Isaac moved into the Midwest over the weekend, I toured Illinois, eastern Iowa, and eastern Missouri late last week with the following observations:

Corn

  • Farmers were in the field harvesting their corn crop as quickly as possible before the rains from Hurricane Isaac moved into the Midwest.
  • In some regions, the corn was already 25% to 30% harvested.
  • There were lines of trucks waiting at the grain elevators to unload corn.
  • The corn crop matured so quickly this year that it looked like it was October instead of the last few days of August.
  • There is a tremendous amount of smut this year in the corn.
  • From a distance, some of the fields have taken on the color of charcoal.
  • There were clouds of black dust as farmers were harvesting their corn. It looked like there was a fire, but it was just clouds of black spores from the smut. Some of the combines were completely black and you could barely see the color of the combine.
  • Smut is a fungus that forms galls on any of the above ground portion of the corn plant. It can replace the kernels and lower the yield potential. It does impact the grain quality like aflatoxin other than the fact that it makes the kernels look a little dirty.
  • In the hardest hit areas, the drought impacted crop is very fragile with a lot of broken stalks and weak plants that will be susceptible to more breakage if there is wind and rain.
  • When there are little "nubbin" ears, the husks are much larger than the ear so the husks are very loose and offer little protection from the elements. Without the tight-fitting husks, rain can easily get inside and make the ear wet, potentially resulting in additional ear rots.
  • A lot of the kernels at the tip of the ear have been damaged by insects, birds, or by the drought itself. These damaged kernels will be more susceptible to fungal diseases and ear rots.
  • Numerous corn fields have already been harvested and the tillage work has been done for the planting of the soft red winter wheat.
  • Some farmers will be finished with their corn harvest before the start their soybean harvest, which is the opposite of the way it normally works.

Soybeans

  • Approximately half the soybeans were yellow or starting to turn yellow. A few soybean fields have already been harvested.
  • Even the soybeans that were still green were showing signs of moisture stress with the high temperatures, bright sunshine, low humidity, and southerly winds.
  • The soybeans were progressing very fast and any moisture at this point would not add yield but simple allow the plant to achieve normal seed size instead of the smaller than normal seed size that had been expected.
  • It was common to find soybean plants with no pods on the lower 5-7 nodes and fewer than normal pods on the remainder of the nodes.
  • There are a few flat pods where the seeds never developed, and fewer than normal number of pods with three soybeans.
  • Some double crop soybeans never grew more than about a foot tall and they remain about the height of the wheat stubble. These plants have virtually no pods and they will be abandoned.
  • Some of the later soybeans looked as if they might have an average yield potential, but most fields will end up with below normal yields.