MOUNT JULIET, Tenn. (DTN) -- Corn yields in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio could be 12% to 15% below USDA's forecasts from earlier this week, according to Gro Intelligence's latest yield estimates.
The DTN/Progressive Farmer 2019 Digital Yield Tour, powered by Gro Intelligence, 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.
The statewide average corn yield for Illinois, at 153 bushels per acre (bpa), is 28 bushels below USDA.
In Indiana, the corn yield estimate is 28 bushels below USDA at 138 bpa.
At 136 bpa, Ohio's yield average is the lowest of the 10 states included in the DTN Digital Crop Tour. It's 24 bpa lower than USDA.
The divergent estimates continue for soybeans, with Gro projecting Illinois yields at 46 bpa, Indiana at 46 bpa and Ohio at 42 bpa compared to USDA's 55 bpa, 50 bpa and 48 bpa estimates, respectively.
You can see specific comparison in these charts:
Because of their real-time sourcing, the Gro yield estimates update daily, so the numbers at publication time may differ slightly from those found on Gro's website.
Gro Intelligence Senior Vice President of Agribusiness James Heneghan said part of the reason for the wide divergence between Gro's models and USDA's estimate is that USDA's August set of yield estimates are a little different this year since the agency pushed back its first objective yield survey to September.
"Our models tick every day," he said. "USDA just came out with their first state-by-state yield estimates based on farmer surveys. They'll bring in a critical element -- the objective yield data -- in September, so stay tuned."
Gro's real-time maps paint a stark picture of Illinois' planting season, which was stymied by the state's fourth-wettest spring in 125 years of weather record keeping.
A map known as the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), which uses satellite imagery to show how abnormally dry or lush an area is, using a 10-year average "greenness" index, is especially telling.
Large swaths of the state are peppered with dark brown, which indicates a lack of vegetation entirely -- the state's record unplanted acres. Illinois farmers reported more than 1.1 million prevented planting corn acres and nearly 331,000 prevented planting soybean acres to USDA's Farm Service Agency this summer.
"Prevented planting acreage is widespread in Illinois, but there are some areas where the flooding and ponding-out are especially prominent," explained DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson. "In the northwest, the area of confluence of the Rock and Mississippi rivers has extensive vegetation deficiency in the NDVI image. North-central Illinois has heavier occurrence of the flooding area. West-central and eastern Illinois have similar intensity of very low vegetative coverage because of the wet spring. And southeastern Illinois has widespread acreage affected by the heavy spring rains as well." See the NDVI map here: https://app.gro-intelligence.com/….
Many have made the mistake of assuming that what did get planted in Illinois will make their usual high yields, noted Tyler Young, who farms in the east-central counties of McLean and Ford. Gro's yield models and his own scouting this week tell a different story.
The state is on track to yield an average of only 153 bpa, a 27% tumble from last year's average yield of 210 bpa and well below USDA's August estimate of 181 bpa. In Gro's county-level yield maps, most counties in the northern two-thirds of the state boasted average yields of 200-plus bpa in 2018. This year, county averages in that region vary widely from 124 bpa to 177 bpa. See the maps here: https://app.gro-intelligence.com/….
Young pulled ears from some of his best-looking corn acres in Ford County this week. He was shocked by the wide variation in ear size and maturity as well as the tell-tale signs of poor pollination, such as the "zipper" pattern produced by poor kernel set in an ear. Gro's estimate of a 143-bpa average for that county, a 30% drop from last year, sounds about right, he said.
"I think it's spot on," he said. "We put our corn in under subpar conditions, just like everyone else, and it's been backpedaling ever since."
Since the wet spring ended, his region has received a scant 1.5 inches of rain in July and only two-tenths of an inch in August. During pollination, hot-and-dry weather took its toll. "A quarter of the ears I pulled were zippered. The ground is hard as a rock, and there are cracks an inch to half-an-inch deep," he said.
Gro's county-level yield map for soybeans pinpoints the state's potential yield average at 46 bpa, down 29% from last year and 9 bushels lower than USDA's August estimate. Most soybean yields in the northern two-thirds of the state are down 10 to 15 bpa from last year in Gro's maps.
Young actually thinks these yield estimates are too optimistic for his region.
"I think soybeans could be a worse story than corn," he said. "We're starting to see spider mites showing up because we've been so dry. So many flowers are brown -- you'll have a pod with decent-sized soybeans sitting right next to a brown flower with no pod on it, or a pod the size of your pinky nail."
Both Young's corn and soybean fields were planted three weeks later than normal -- which was a common experience for Illinois farmers, DTN's Anderson noted.
"The slow start has progress running well behind average; corn was finally almost finished pollination during the Aug. 11 weekend, but 20% of the Illinois soybeans had yet to bloom," he said.
Young urged growers to venture deep into their fields in the weeks ahead to get a better grasp on the true yield potential of their crop, particularly cornfields.
"Most of the industry's focus has been on areas already committed to prevented planting," he said. "We've been assuming the rest of it was OK, because it came up quickly and it looked like it pollinated. But the ears I pulled that were zippered actually all looked decent in the husks before I pulled them down. People need to get out and look."
Flooded and ponded ground was a common sight in Indiana this spring, and it shows up as dark-brown swaths on Gro's NDVI maps. The effect is especially prominent in central, eastern and southern parts of the state. See the map here: https://app.gro-intelligence.com/….
"Indiana got unloaded on during the spring, with precipitation in the March-April-May time frame coming in ninth-wettest in 125 years of record-keeping," Anderson said.
As a result of the spring weather, more than 700,000 acres of the corn across the state went unplanted, along with 230,000 acres of soybeans, according to the latest Farm Services Agency data.
"Spring temperatures were near average, but soils had no chance to dry out with the consistent rain," Anderson said. "Then, to add to crop stress, the faucet turned off. Mid-July to mid-August, rain has been less than half the normal amount over most of the state. Usually, this sort of trend is a relatively minor swing. But a lot of corn and soybean acreage has shallow roots this year because of wet ground; so this drier trend is very unwelcome."
In northwestern Indiana's Newton County, Kurt Line said they were irrigating pretty hard until earlier this week when they got an inch or two of rain. The majority of corn in his area was planted in June, although some was planted in April and May in between rains. He said the late start to the growing season took the top end off yield potential.
Gro's county yield maps show a similar trend. The statewide average corn yield is on track to hit 138 bpa, a 27% tumble from USDA's final 189-bpa yield last year. In 2018, a vast majority of counties in Indiana had yield potential above 180 bpa. This year, the highest forecast yield is 178 bpa in Vermillion County, and in the parts of the state hit hardest this spring, yields aren't expected to top 100 bpa. See the county maps here: https://app.gro-intelligence.com/….
Line said Gro's forecast for 161 bpa for Newton County seems a little low to him.
"What I've been in recently, I'm still optimistic. If we get the right weather the rest of the way, we could maybe have a close-to-normal corn crop," he said, adding that a lot of the crop is at risk if there's an early frost.
As of the weekend of Aug. 11, 21% of the corn crop hasn't pollinated yet and 30% of the soybean crop hasn't bloomed.
Gro's soybean yield forecast of 46 bpa is 21% lower than last year's final USDA yield of 58.5 bpa. The differences from 2018 are stark. Last year, the lowest county average was 49 bpa while the majority of the state saw yields in the upper 50s and lower 60s. This year, the bulk of the state is forecast to have yields from the mid-30s to mid-40s, with a low of 34 bpa in Hamilton County just north of Indianapolis. The highest forecast is in Jasper County at 55 bpa.
That's just east of Line's farm, where Gro forecasts a county yield of 53 bpa.
"I would take the under," he said. There are a lot of holes in the bean fields, including areas that were replanted and then drowned out again. "They seemed to struggle to get much growth until just the last couple of weeks. They finally looks like beans should, but we sure lost a lot of opportunity to capture sunlight. We were still planting beans on the longest day of the year."
Much of Ohio saw record-setting rainfall this spring, and as a result, almost 1.5 million acres -- 880,000 of it corn and almost 600,000 of it soybeans -- went unplanted.
"The NDVI image shows how the heavy spring rain lashed the state -- almost the entire western half of Ohio has zero, or close to it, for the vegetation anomaly reading. And the west-central and northwestern sectors are almost entirely zeroed out in the NDVI analysis," Anderson said. You can see the map here: https://app.gro-intelligence.com/….
The rain continued in June, and USDA's crop progress values show just how late everything was planted in Ohio: 29% of the corn crop hadn't pollinated as of the weekend of Aug. 11 and 31% of the soybeans hadn't yet bloomed. Typically, both of those phases are almost finished.
This year, Gro's Ohio yield forecast is 27% lower than last year at 136 bpa. Typically, the western half of Ohio has the strongest yields in the state, and last year, the averages ran from around 185 bpa to 200 bpa. This year, many of those county yield forecasts are closer to 120 bpa.
Logan County, Ohio, farmer Bill Bayliss said it's hard to even speculate about the corn crop this year. He got some corn planted in early June and then it got wet again.
Anderson said Ohio had the eighth-wettest June in 125 years of record keeping.
But in recent weeks, the tap has turned off, and Bayliss said his farm hasn't seen measurable precipitation in at least three weeks. His corn is in the process of pollinating.
"It's a very inopportune time to be trying to pollinate as hot and as dry as it is," he said, adding that he wouldn't be surprised by Gro's 121-bpa average for his county.
On soybeans, Gro's statewide yield forecast of 42 bpa is also 27% below last year. Yields in the state's northwest region range from the upper-20s to mid-40s, a sharp departure from last year's mid-50s to low-60s.
Bayliss planted soybeans until the beginning of July and said his farm may not make Gro's 36-bpa estimate for his county.
"They're podded, but they're knee high at the best," he said. "That field should have been at least waist high at this time of year. Between getting planted late and turning dry, it's just a bad combination."
ABOUT THE TOUR
The DTN/Progressive Farmer 2019 Digital Yield Tour, powered by Gro Intelligence, is taking place Aug. 13-16 and provides an in-depth look at how the year's corn and soybean crops are progressing. Each day, we're featuring crop condition and yield information from various states, which include links to the Gro yield prediction maps for those states. Yield summaries are viewable at the county level.
The "tour" started in the west, with the first day's articles focusing on Kansas and Missouri and Nebraska and South Dakota. On Aug. 14, the tour explored yield estimates from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. Thursday we moved into the Eastern Corn Belt -- Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Friday, Aug. 16, we will publish a final look at Gro's overall national yield predictions for the 2019 corn and soybean crops. Readers should note that the Gro yield visuals are continually updated, while the DTN feature articles are based on the company's yield estimate at the time the article was written. Numbers quoted in the articles may be different than those on the Gro website depending on when they are viewed.
To see all the tour articles and related DTN stories about the 2019 crop, visit our tour site at: https://spotlights.dtnpf.com/….
About Gro Intelligence: The New York-based company is focused on creating data analytics for the agriculture industry. Gro builds proprietary crop models that use satellite imagery, soil conditions, weather and other crop and environmental data to produce crop health and yield prediction numbers and visuals.
To learn more about Gro, go here: https://www.gro-intelligence.com/….
To read the research white paper on Gro's modeling system, go here and select to "Download the corn yield model paper": https://gro-intelligence.com/….
Emily Unglesbee can be reached at Emily.firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter @Emily_Unglesbee
Katie Dehlinger can be reached at Katie.email@example.com
Follow her on Twitter @KatieD_DTN
Copyright 2019 DTN/The Progressive Farmer. All rights reserved.