DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Like many farmers, Scott Wallis had a hard time swallowing the August Crop Production and World Agricultural Supply and Demand (WASDE) reports that came out this week.
"I expected a lower planted acreage figure, but an increase in average national yield makes no sense to me," said Wallis, who farms near Princeton, Indiana. He also finds the discrepancies between USDA's and FSA's numbers on planted acres to be troubling.
"I might be able to believe the 85.8 million corn acres that FSA is reporting, because it includes failed acres," Wallis said. "However, the math just doesn't seem to be adding up, particularly when compared to earlier planting intentions.
"The biggest question I have is, of all the acres counted as planted, how many of those acres will fail or have already failed? How many acres will be harvestable as grain?"
In Nebraska, the Andersen family was also somewhat skeptical of the estimates. Hit hard by Missouri River flooding earlier this year, the Blair, Nebraska, farmers are among the many farmers that ended up with some prevented planting acres this year. While they've escaped further natural disasters, this year, their crop is struggling compared to past years.
"The majority of our crops had looked pretty good until recently when the combination of heat and lack of rainfall started to get serious," said Ashley Andersen. Recent rainfall was easing some of those concerns, but the crop is still filling out, and they figure some yield potential was shaved during the dry days of July and early August, she added. They are particularly concerned about soybeans because they got such a late start and have been constantly threatened by insect pressure this year.
Wallis and Andersen have been reporting from their respective locations each week throughout the growing season as part of DTN's View From the Cab Series.
The list of challenges these farmers have faced during the 2019 planting season is long. Flooding, wet planting conditions, late planting, searing heat during pollination, lack of rainfall in July/August, insects and a large number of empty acres in their regions are among the reasons both farmers question whether crop yield calculations will meet USDA's current projections.
This week, DTN/Progressive Farmer is conducting a digital crop tour. Powered by Gro Intelligence, the effort is an in-depth look at how this year's corn and soybean crop is progressing, using Gro's real-time yield maps, which are generated with satellite imagery, rainfall data, temperature maps and other public data.
To see all the tour articles and related DTN stories about the 2019 crop, visit our tour site at: https://spotlights.dtnpf.com/….
To get a boots-on-the-ground view, we asked both farmers to do some spot yield checks this week. Here's what they are finding in their part of the farming world:
ASHLEY ANDERSEN: BLAIR, NEBRASKA
Attitudes improved in east-central Nebraska this week as much-needed rains soaked the region. "We are calling it the million-dollar rain," Ashley Andersen said.
While the rains were sporadic, Andersen said DTN weather stations indicated most fields had received at least 1 inch and up to 3 inches of rainfall over the weekend and into Monday morning.
"We were most concerned about soybeans," she said. "It's not that we aren't concerned about corn, but it was easy to see the soybeans really starting to struggle."
Her husband, Jarett, gets a lot of opportunity to survey the crop from the windshield of a semi as he hauls cattle across the country. This week took him to Colorado and Oklahoma and back several times. "On one return trip, he topped a hill near the farm and was shocked to see soybeans starting to roll up, and in a few of the worst places, they seemed to be turning colors," Ashley reported.
"We know yields have been hurt, but this rain was what we needed to save what potential is left in soybeans," she said.
The Andersens were also counting their blessings as they missed the damaging cells that blasted through Grand Island last week. Wind gusts up to 90 miles per hour and hail caused damage to many Nebraska fields.
This week's USDA NASS Crop Progress report found a Nebraska corn crop deemed in 60% good condition and 15% excellent. However, the maturity of that crop lags considerably with 41% at dough stage compared to 74% in 2018.
DTN's digital tour and Gro's models for corn show a statewide average of 182 bushels per acre (bpa) in Nebraska. USDA pegged Nebraska at 186 bpa during the latest WASDE report.
Gro's models allow a more fine-tuned county-by-county look, which changes daily. Washington County, where the Andersen home farm is located, was bringing predictions of 169.8 bpa on Aug. 14. NASS' final yield tally for the county was 187.5 bpa in 2018.
Gro forecasts Nebraska soybean growers will harvest 56.55 bpa compared to USDA's 58 bpa estimate. Washington County's averages were estimated at 51.28 bpa as of Aug. 14. That compares to USDA NASS' final 55.5 bpa average in 2018.
The most recent NASS Crop Progress report put Nebraska soybeans at 62% good and 11% excellent. Pod setting was slightly behind pace at 66% compared to 75% last year.
The Andersen's actual yield pulls this week for DTN found soybeans well podded with average-to-high average yield potential, in Jarett's estimation. "We're finding corn yields that are indicating close to 200 bpa to 220 bpa if we continue to get good rain events," Ashley said.
"The rain we received recently did more than help the crop, though," she added. "I swear I could see the stress lifting from my husband's shoulders with every drop."
Meanwhile, the children head back to school this week, which adds a new layer of chaos to everyday life. "I cried all the way home from the drop-off," Ashley admitted. "I'm not sure why it is so emotional. This year seems harder as the crop season has been so crazy."
Meanwhile, there's no shortage of things to do as they clean bins and prepare for harvest. "I also volunteered Jarett to cook 100 pounds of pork for a local event this week. Life around here is never dull," she said.
SCOTT WALLIS: PRINCETON, INDIANA
Apparently, all Scott Wallis needs to do to encourage rainfall is head to the field to pull yield samples. Rain fell steadily as he waded into several corn and soybean fields to estimate what the fields might cough up this fall.
He's not complaining. His fields near Princeton, Indiana, were gasping for water prior to the showers received over the past few days. "We had a quarter of an inch on Monday, and another 1 to 3 inches fell on Tuesday, depending on where the field is and we needed it," Wallis said.
Estimating yield is not an easy thing to do this year as there are so many scenarios playing out in the field. "We've got several different crops in the field, and most of the differences revolve around planting date," he said.
DTN will release Gro's county forecasts for Indiana on Thursday, Aug. 15. However, the state corn yields are currently forecast at 144.22 bpa compared to USDA NASS' yield estimate of 166 bpa. Gro's soybean yield models are estimating 46.89 bpa for the state of Indiana compared to NASS at 50 bpa.
Wallis pulled yield samples using a DTN-approved formula in his test plots planted May 14-15. He calculated yields on 116-day corn at 213 bpa and 113-to-114-day corn at 248 bpa. Both samples were in high-organic-matter soils. Another sample was pulled in 112-day corn with medium soil types showing a 206 bpa yield.
"The 116-day corn had some pollination problems. The 113-to-114-day corn seems a little high and the 112-day number seemed about right," Wallis said.
What a difference 20 days makes. A yield check pulled on 115-day corn planted June 5 has received 1,700 growing degree units (GDU) and is very immature compared to the May planted corn. "I called it 188 bpa, but it is really hard to know how to judge the ear length -- it all depends on how much of it aborts.
"I can tell the ears are pollinated and they count close to 40 kernels long, but only about 6 inches of that ear is measurable or looks for sure that it will make," he noted. Earlier-planted ears were measuring nearly 7 inches in length with 32 to 34 kernels. Most of the early May corn is 14 to 18 kernels around.
"Think about how much of the corn crop was planted in June this year. It's really hard to know how this crop is going to turn out," he added. One thing he noticed during scouting was how easily the stalks snapped in the late-planted corn as he pushed aside end rows to enter fields for sampling. Wind, heat, lack of moisture remain threats to that crop, he said.
"It's got six to eight weeks' worth of work left to do," said Wallis.
The most recent USDA NASS Crop Progress report categorized Indiana's corn crop as 20% poor, 38% fair, 29% good and 4% excellent. Only 28% of the corn was in a dough stage, compared to 73% last year.
The Indiana soybean crop was rated 20% poor, 41% fair, 31% good and 5% excellent with 34% in the setting pod stage, compared to 84% last year.
Wallis planted the majority of his soybeans in June this year and some of them were planted in July. While they've closed the rows and are setting some pods, they are still blooming. "In another week, there should be many more pods," he said. "They were really hard to count -- and those are the oldest ones we've got."
It's fixing to get hot in Wallis' part of the world over the next 10 days, according to DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson.
Wallis said he already feels like he's in the hot seat. He just hopes the rain keeps coming in reasonable amounts to keep the crop moving in the right direction.
Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
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