"I spy with my little eye ..."
There's a lot of spying going on as this is a big week for field observations. The Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour is moving across the Corn Belt. DTN/The Progressive Farmer Crops/Technology Editor Pam Smith is on the western leg of the tour and DTN Markets Editor Katie Micik is on the eastern leg of the tour. Watch for remarks and pictures from them on Twitter (@PamSmithDTN and @KatieMDTN) and complete reports in DTN Ag News.
As far as eyeballing conditions, our reader email group has kept us updated throughout the crop year. Much of what we've heard from this group is being verified this week via the Pro Farmer tour. Barring a few spotty problems, the northern reaches of the Corn Belt form a garden spot for corn and beans. Missouri and other points south, not so much. Localized issues exist in the Corn Belt, especially eastern, but are not widespread. Areas that were dry early in Kansas and other Wheat Belt states finally got some precipitation.
My thanks to all those in this reader consulting group who kept us so well-informed this summer. You guys rock!
Mark Nowak of Wells, Minnesota, has been telling us consistently that he's seeing the best crop he can remember. That trend is continuing. "The first 16 days of August, only .2 inch of rain. Was needing a good watering and we got one with 2.5 inches since Sunday evening the 16th. All nice gentle slow rains in 3 different events," he wrote DTN this week. "That should be enough to finish crops as to moisture. Now the ideal would be lots of sun and temps in the 80s. GDUs are right on track with the long-term normal. With normal temps the rest of the way, projecting to blacklayer most of corn by Sept. 25, which would be a full week ahead of normal first frost date. Some light signs of corn blight or possibly Goss's Wilt in some corn. Outlook is still for a very good crop. Corn aphids seem to have left about as fast as they appeared last week."
CONDITIONS CHANGE QUICKLY
Still, conditions can change quickly and that happened in northwest Iowa. Randy Bush, who farms in that area, said an abundance of precipitation is now causing problems.
"Up to 14"," he wrote DTN after this past weekend's rains. "Water is everywhere. (There are) stories of leach fields building up pressure and blowing back into houses. ... My 12-foot wide creek is now a 1/4 mile wide. It's supposed to keep raining today and tomorrow (Monday and Tuesday). Went from perfect to crap in under 12 hours. All the hot wire and fence for the cows will have to be replaced and the armpit tall beans are more than likely flat. Luckily I brought all the cows up yesterday or they would be heading for the Gulf."
ROAD TRIP OBSERVATIONS
Many people make their own road trips to check out crop conditions, or simply turn any drive into a chance for windshield observations. Dan Hiller of Hardin County, Ohio, sent us these notes from his personal crop tour. He's not seeing -- at least in soybeans -- conditions as good as the Midwest Crop Tour has been reporting.
"Thursday and Friday I drove straight west from Fort Wayne, Indiana, to the Mississippi River. I was planning on only going as far as the Illinois River, but when I did not find a corn field that would go over 150 in that distance I kept going. The corn west of the Illinois River was better, but the ears were small. I then drove north and west to Des Moines, north on 35 and east on 20. I exit every half hour and look at seed company plots.
"After I got back into Illinois, I headed south to Bloomington and then across 136 to Indiana and continued east till I got to 69. By that time darkness was on me and I stopped sampling," wrote Hiller.
"Through the entire trip I was disappointed by the ear size. Very few were 18 around and most were 16 or less. Length was in the 30-40 kernel range with only a few over 40. None were over 45. The kernels were small; only one place did I find one variety that had a half inch depth. Most were 3/8 inches, which is much shorter than the 1/2-plus I saw in grain bin of corn doing over 200 last year. The corn was dented. For the kernel to increase in size the weather will need to cool off and turn wet. Looking at the 15-day forecast for temps, that is not in the cards. Most of the formulas that use kernel counts are based on 85-90M per 56 pounds. The kernels I saw would make a small flat in seed corn. I generally expect with small flats for 80m seed to weigh around 45-50 pounds," Hiller wrote.
"From what I saw, I question how much the crop will shrink as we move into harvest. Some of the corn was far worse than the 2012 drought. My gut feel is this is a sub-160 crop and if it continues hot as forecast it could be in the low 150.
"I was very disappointed in the beans. I do not know where Pro Farmer is getting their pod counts. I saw mostly 3 pods per node and the plants were leggy. For 50-plus I like to see at least 30% of the nodes having 4 pods. Many of the plants had 1 or 2 per node on the bottom 18 inches then 2 to 3 to the top. Most the beans were out of bloom so I doubt if they are going to add many pods," he concluded.
RAIN HELPS KANSAS
Doug Zillinger of north-central Kansas told us early in the growing season about extreme dryness in his area. Later, good rains helped better conditions there.
"For the most part, the fall crops are doing OK here. We have been getting spotty rains in varying amounts through July and into August," he wrote Monday.
In the northeast part of the Corn Belt, Phil Carter of New Era, Michigan, has kept us up to date on corn and soybeans, along with all the various fruits and other plants grown in that area. This week, he wrote, "Things are moving in west-central Michigan. Wheat harvest is done, yields were not as good as expected but test weight was high. Now if the market would respond and help us make some money! We could use a good soaking rain, we've been dry for too long and corn on the lighter soils especially is showing stress. Guys with center pivots are using them. Apples are sizing nicely and mine will be getting another application of calcium nitrate to help add some size to the fruit. Cling peach harvest started last week and split pits are a serious problem with the early varieties.
"Several guys are debating whether to bring in the harvest crews or the bulldozers. I am getting ready for the first of two food safety audits. We meet tomorrow (Tuesday) night for Farm Bureau Policy development and next week is county fair and as swine superintendent and a 4-H swine leader I won't see much of the crops for a while," Carter wrote.
In southern Georgia, harvest is already here. Sixth-generation farmer Mark Israel told DTN, "Right in the middle of corn harvest 2015. We are about two weeks behind schedule because of some dryer issues. Our corn looks pretty good if we can get it in between rains. From the yields we have figured so far most averaged about 240. Still a long ways to go. Here 200 is a good irrigated yield and most of my neighbors are in that range. Cotton in some spots is finishing up and peanut harvest is just around the corner. Farmers in this area, as always this time of year, will be extremely busy for the next 2.5 months."
Will Nicholson of Cherry Valley, Arkansas, also reports the beginnings of harvest. "Here in northeast Arkansas, some milo has started and little rice ... rumors say some corn will start today (Monday). We have a rainy week forecast; depends on that how much harvesting will kick off this week. But the little beans will love the rain."
And, as usual, we'll finish with comments from Crawford McFetridge, who farms in the Finger Lakes area of New York. He always has some interesting comments on the markets.
"Today (Monday) we are almost 90 degrees. ... There are beans wilting and large corn starting to curl. I guess that flash drought I forecasted is here and on schedule," Crawford wrote. "This is the first real taste of summer. Fortunately I ... thrown in to PP (prevented planting). ... Well I think the markets are going to $2.00 corn before Halloween. (Maybe) with an impossibly wet fall, corn goes past $7.00. How's that for a forecast? ... Well to wait for that rain storm that won't come. A month ago it was soft mud."
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