By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor
DTN Progressive Farmer Crops Technology Editor
ROCHESTER, Minnesota (DTN) -- The overwhelming take-away from the 2016 Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour was it's a great corn crop, but probably not a record.
Tour scouts expected to see a bumper corn crop based on USDA's August national average estimate of 175 bushels per acre. Scouts saw a really good overall crop, but as the week wore on there were more and more doubts expressed by farmers and analysts on the tour about USDA's projected yield and 15.15 billion bushel production forecast.
If numbers from scouts released on Thursday are correct, Iowa corn yields won't be as high as USDA's forecast.
Three-hundred-sixty-seven corn samples in Iowa projected an average yield of 188.17 bpa. That was higher than last year's crop tour average, but nine bushels below USDA's latest forecast for the Hawkeye State.
Yields in central Iowa in particular were low compared to the potential state average. Central Iowa fields averaged 172.83 bpa, down about four bushels from the three-year tour average. Yields in southern Iowa counties were 20 to 22 bpa higher than the three-year tour average.
Minnesota was projected at 182.32 bpa, just slightly less than the government estimate of 184 bpa. However, the tour's Minnesota number is somewhat skewed because scouts only sample the lower tier of the state.
Soybean pod counts in Iowa came in close to last year's tour average. Scouts this week counted 1,224 pods in a three-by-three-foot area, which compares to the 1,219 average for the tour last year. The crop tour does not project soybean yields because the soybean crop is not as mature as the corn crop at this time of the growing season.
Pod counts in Minnesota on Thursday came in averaging 1,107 which is down from 1,119 measured by scouts last year and also below the three-year tour average.
Pro Farmer will release its national production and yield estimates on Friday.
Steve Fellure, a farmer from Attica, Indiana, and scout on the eastern leg of the tour, ran a route across south-central Iowa, shooting north and running parallel just west of Interstate 35 on Thursday. Fellure noted his route saw a good corn crop -- his team's samples in 11 counties averaged 191.5 bpa. But Fellure thought overall he was seeing a better soybean crop because of higher pod counts on his route.
"We're going to have a helluva bean crop," Fellure said. "The corn crop is going to be good, but the bean crop is going to be stronger."
Overall, Fellure said he believed from Indiana to Iowa the weather was conducive to good yields, just maybe not as high as USDA had pegged them thus far. "I've seen a lot of good corn yields and bean pod counts," he said.
LOOK BEYOND BEAUTY
Kurt Line, a farmer from Lake Village, Indiana, scouted crops on the western leg of the tour and said he's seldom been on a crop tour when the crop looked this good from the road. "Every state we covered on the west looked beautiful as you drove by it, with exception of some heavy weed infestations," he said. "However, you get out in those fields and it's a different story." Missing ears due to green snap or skips in stand were common. Scouts also found hail damage in nearly every western state sampled.
"These things were just enough to take the top end off many of the fields we looked at. It's a good crop, but we just didn't find the monster crop we were expecting."
A few fields in Minnesota were showing a tad bit of nitrogen stress, but for the most part fields exhibited excellent plant health and very little insect damage. It was more hidden factors due to weather issues that farmers might not see unless they scout which can put a lid on this crop.
Many farmers indicated a cold spring had caused emergence problems and that could be seen in the erratic ear set within a field. Those warm days and nights that never cooled down also led to tip-back in some fields.
Soybeans still seem to have plenty of potential, but adequate moisture had caused many to grow lanky. Recent rains were leading to some lodging and the onset of sudden death syndrome was beginning to show up in a few fields in Nebraska and was more prominent in Iowa and Minnesota.
Waterhemp was the most pronounced problem across the western states. Infested fields lined up next to clean fields and scouts could only guess that those farmers got pre-emergence herbicides down in a timely fashion.
RECAPPING THE WEEK
Some 100 scouts fanned out through the Corn Belt this week to measure the potential yields growing within approximately 1,400 corn and soybean fields stretching from Ohio to South Dakota. They measured plant populations, grain length, kernels around and recorded observations about crop maturity and crop health.
The tour is strategically placed between the August and September USDA reports, said Chuck Roth, general manager of Pro Farmer. "We're not trying to compete with USDA, but trying to supplement it with information," Roth explained.
In Illinois, scouts estimated an average corn yield of 193 bpa. USDA's forecast is 200 bpa. History shows scouts in general measure Illinois 1.5 bpa larger than USDA.
Indiana's estimate for corn was 173.42 bpa. USDA pegged the crop at 187 bpa. In the past, the crop tour has usually come in about 2 bpa smaller than USDA.
Nebraska's average corn estimate was 158 bpa. USDA's forecast is 187 bpa. Historically, the tour has sampled Nebraska about 15 bpa short because routes sample more dryland fields than irrigated.
Ohio had a tour average of 148.96 bpa for the cornfields sampled while USDA forecasts 163 bpa.
South Dakota's corn average on the tour was 149.78 bpa, just slightly more than USDA's 147 bpa.
To see photos from Chris Clayton and Pam Smith while they were on the crop tour, check here: www.facebook.com/dtnprogressivefarmer
Pam Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
Chris Clayton can be reached at email@example.com
Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN
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