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Yield Questions Abound at Farm Shows

Bryce Anderson
By  Bryce Anderson , DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist
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Yield prospects for corn still seem to be as murky as the skies over the Husker Harvest Days farm show near Grand Island, Nebraska. (DTN photo by Bryce Anderson)

The summer farm show season ended -- at least for me -- with the Husker Harvest Days farm show near Grand Island, Nebraska, from Tuesday, Sept. 13 through Thursday, Sept. 15. The show's run came during a week of cloudy and breezy weather with a wide variance on temperatures and the threat, at least in days 1 and 3, of moderate to heavy rain showers. That prospect had to have reverberated through the client area of this event, because it was just two years ago, during the 2014 version of Husker Harvest Days, that very heavy rain caused delays and a late start for one of the sessions -- not to mention a less-than-ideal walk throughout the show grounds.

But, even with a lack of actual rain, the 2016 version of Husker Harvest Days still had a thick cloud blanket, and that is an appropriate metaphor for the mood that farmers who visited our DTN building have when it comes to making an educated guess about how this year's corn crop will actually perform. They are not the only ones either; crop specialists with the University of Nebraska extension service voiced the same description of corn harvest prospects which are enigmatic and opaque for 2016.

Following is a list of thoughts regarding corn yields for this year that I gathered from different conversations during Husker Harvest Days:

First of all, the season in Nebraska -- along with much of the western Corn Belt -- was all over the place when it came to weather patterns. 2016 may well be remembered as a weird crop year in this part of the country. The crop season began with a warm and mild April, which saw a fair amount of corn get planted. Then, the temperature turned cool to cold during May, almost as if the two months swapped their long-term weather patterns. It happens, but this time the wide swing from warm to chilly caused some early stress in the corn crop physiology. That put plants behind the 8-ball ahead of summer.

Then, during the heart of the summer, temperature stress brought on some out-of-the-ordinary developments: pollination occurred in an inconsistent pattern in cornfields. Some stalks actually did not produce an ear. Others had the first ear abort, and then a second ear show up with some -- but not maximum -- production. I also heard from more than one person that ears showed some odd-looking formation -- curled up, or not filled out all the way to the end, or affected by some kind of fungus.

The midsummer stress was added to by very warm to hot temperatures which set in on a continuous 24-hour basis. Days were hot and nights were very warm. Extension service scientists told me of early morning temperatures in a cornfield canopy in late August of the low 80s Fahrenheit in the interior of an irrigated field.

That brings up another item that was mentioned -- it seemed like the various stress items were more noticeable in irrigated rather than dryland (rainfed/non-irrigated) fields this summer.

The final question, of course, is what these various occurrences and details add up to when it comes to yield. And, in that vein, the almost 100 percent view that I heard during Husker Harvest Days was that prospects look "good," but certainly not at a record level.

All this is likely no surprise given the discussion that crops have been subjected to for at least the past month -- but it is one more summary, from another location in the Corn Belt, of a corn crop that has a definite air of mystery about it.


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9/16/2016 | 10:54 AM CDT
The word on Facebook out of southern Illinios is disappointment. Lower yields and kernel damage.