By Emily Unglesbee
DTN Staff Reporter
DTN Farm Business Editor
ROCKVILLE, Md., and MT. JULIET, Tenn. (DTN) -- Thanks to a drier spring, more timely rain and sizzling summer temperatures, the Eastern Corn Belt has been cooking up an above-average corn and soybean crop this year.
On its fourth day, the DTN/Progressive Farmer 2020 Digital Yield Tour pegged corn yields for Illinois at 200.3 bushels per acre (bpa), 7 bushels below USDA's estimate, but well ahead of last year's waterlogged crop. The tour put Indiana corn at 190.4 bpa, above USDA's 188 bpa, and pegged Ohio at 175.8 bpa, just above USDA's prediction of 175 bpa even.
"If true, the tour's estimated yields would be new state records for Indiana and Ohio, two states that looked in trouble earlier this season," DTN Lead Analyst Todd Hultman said.
DTN's tour is powered by Gro Intelligence, which uses real-time yield maps, generated with satellite imagery, rainfall data, temperature maps and other public data, to take an in-depth look at how this year's corn and soybean crop is progressing.
While neither Gro nor USDA's estimates incorporated the impact of Monday's fierce Midwest derecho just yet, it is increasingly clear that the storm system rolled over some of the region's most promising fields.
Gro's maps indicate big soybean yields are blooming for Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, which came in at 59.6 bpa, 57.8 bpa and 52.7 bpa, respectively. "None of the three are new records, but they all push the national yield higher than the old national record of 52.0 bpa," Hultman noted. Notably, all three came in under USDA's August crop production estimates of 64 bpa estimate for Illinois, 61 bpa estimate for Indiana and 58 bpa estimate for Ohio.
You can explore the state yield charts below, keeping in mind that Gro yield models update daily, so numbers may vary slightly from those found in this article:
You can also create a free Gro account for daily updates to yield forecasts and real-time crop health monitoring across the U.S. here: https://app.gro-intelligence.com/….
"It is important to keep in mind this week's estimates are not set yet, as soybeans are still filling pods, and the forecast is starting to turn drier the next two weeks," Hultman cautioned. "Yet, even with weather risk still in play, this week's tour estimates continue to suggest record U.S. corn and soybean yields in 2020 and largely support USDA's latest estimates for a 15.28-billion-bushel (bb) corn crop and 4.42-bb soybean crop."
The Aug. 10 derecho swept across the northern half of Illinois, with Lee, LaSalle, Lake and Vermilion counties seeing some of the highest sustained wind speeds, at 92, 85.5, 76 and 75 mph, respectively.
Using DTN weather data and public crop data, Gro Intelligence calculated the crop area exposed to that storm system as it cut through the Midwest. Their analysis concludes that 6.95 million Illinois corn acres and 5.8 million Illinois soybean acres lay under the path of the derecho, potentially putting 1.1 billion bushels of corn production and 360 million bushels of soybean production at risk in the state.
For now, Gro's yield models are using satellite imagery from before the storm system and show above-average crops in Illinois. Gro's estimate of 200.3 bpa for the statewide average corn yield is well above last year, when Gro pegged Illinois corn at 171.8 bpa, and USDA landed on 181 bpa.
Although Gro comes in below USDA's August estimate of 207 bpa for Illinois corn, the yield models show a clearly above-average crop developing. The key? Rainfall timing, DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson said.
"The sharply higher yields for both corn and soybeans reflect the better planting conditions but also a benefit in terms of July rainfall," he explained. "July precipitation was near to slightly above normal in the northern and north-central sectors, and from 150% to 300% -- three times normal -- in the central and southern sectors. That rain came right when corn was pollinating and soybeans were blooming."
The best corn yields in the state are clustered in the northwestern corner, with another promising strip of production running through central Illinois, from the Missouri border almost to Urbana. There, Gro's models suggest average yields will mostly land between 200 and 210 bpa, with Warren County pulling in the top yield estimate of 217.3 bpa.
Morgan County farmer John Werries agrees with Gro's assessment of a large, 210-bpa-average corn crop for his county. Other than a few drowned-out spots in fields from the wet spring, the summer's ample rainfall has fields bursting with potential in west-central Illinois, he said.
Corn yields drop off in the eastern and southern parts of the state, falling more often between 170 and 190 bpa. The far northeastern county of Lake pulls in the lowest yield estimate at 150 bpa.
Gro models suggest a statewide average soybean yield of 59.6 bpa for Illinois, up substantially from last year's estimate of 49.5 bpa from Gro, and 54 bpa from USDA, though still under the state's record 65-bpa crop in 2018.
The best soybeans occupy the northern two-thirds of the state, particularly the northwest and central counties. There, average yield potential looks solidly above 60 bpa, with most yield estimates falling between 60 and 67 bpa and central Piatt County pushing 68 bpa. Elsewhere, yields range mostly from 50 bpa to 60 bpa, with the far southwestern county of Alexander dipping to 45.6 bpa.
Gro forecasts a 190.4-bpa average corn yield for Indiana, which would set a state record. USDA estimated the state's average yield at 188 bpa in its August Crop Production report, up from its 2019 final yield of 169 bpa. Last year, Gro's final yield estimate for Indiana was 154.2 bpa.
The state's highest-yielding area is mainly north and west of Indianapolis where yield forecasts are generally above 200 bpa. Tipton County tops the charts with a 206.7-bpa average. A number of counties in this region also saw the strongest winds from Monday's derecho, which Gro estimates potentially affected more than 7 million corn and soybean acres in Indiana. Howard, Newton, Allen, Fountain and Carroll counties saw wind speeds near 70 mph, which is generally lower than the 80- to 95-mph winds seen in Iowa and Illinois.
DTN's Anderson said temperatures have been largely favorable for much of the growing season, "Especially in July when values were 1 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. The state was largely spared a real heat wave. Rainfall has been more variable. High pressure parked over the Great Lakes actually kept northern Indiana quite dry during pollination and the start of soybean blooming in July, from 25% to 50% below normal. Rains did increase in mid to late July to take the edge off budding drought development."
De Kalb County, on the northeastern border of Ohio, shows the lowest yield estimate at 153.7 bpa. Yields in surrounding counties jump to 170 bpa, and the state's southeast, which has more historically variable yields, sports averages from 160 bpa to 178 bpa.
On soybeans, Gro's state yield estimate is slightly lower than USDA's at 57.9 bpa and 61 bpa, respectively. Gro's final estimate last year was also lower than USDA, coming in at 48.9 bpa to USDA's 51 bpa. High- and low-yielding regions largely correspond to corn, with Tipton County's 66 bpa average leading the way and De Kalb's 47.4 bpa bringing up the rear.
Despite a hotter-and-drier-than-average weather pattern in June and July, Ohio could set a statewide record for corn yields. Gro Intelligence forecasts Ohio growers will harvest an average yield of 175.8 bpa, just slightly higher than USDA's estimate of 175 bpa. Last year, Gro's and USDA's final yield estimates for the state were much wider apart, with Gro putting yields at 143.5 bpa vs. USDA's 164 bpa.
The best corn production is forecast in the counties bordering Indiana and Lake Erie and just northeast of Cincinnati, where yields range from 170 to 180 bpa. Darke County takes highest honors, with an estimated yield of 181.5. Yield forecasts are much lower in the state's northwestern and northeastern growing regions, with yields falling in the 140- to 155-bpa range. Carroll County, to the southeast of Canton, has the lowest average at 131.5.
Logan County farmer Bill Bayliss said corn crops in his area are erratic. Planting got off to a late start and didn't finish up until the first of June. Then it was dry until July 22.
"Midsummer rains were largely 25% to 50% below normal due to the effect of Great Lakes high pressure that kept a drier pattern in place," DTN's Anderson said. "With that drier trend, the July temperatures were also quite warm, from 3 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. Warmest conditions were mostly in the eastern half of the state, so highest-producing counties in the western half of the state were out of the greatest heat stress potential."
Bayliss said a lot of his corn has permanent damage from the summer's drought. While Gro estimates Logan County will have an average yield of 168 bpa, he thinks the corn in his area is more likely to yield 135 to 150 bpa.
"We got a stand, it's just so short and didn't grow during that dry weather. The ear lengths are short. The diameter of the ears are really small," he said. "We got the rain just as it was pollinating, so it's looking like the soaker turned some fields around, but some is still pollinating, believe it or not" due to the uneven growth earlier in the year, he added.
The impact of the drought can be clearly seen on Gro's NDVI, or normalized difference vegetation index, which measures how green vegetation is compared to the last decade. Gro's maps include an interactive timeline, which shows the changing conditions over time. You can see the NDVI map for Ohio, Indiana and Illinois here: https://app.gro-intelligence.com/….
While Bayliss describes the corn crop as spotty and erratic, the soybean crop looks good. "They got a good, soaking rain about a week ago in two inch-and-a-half batches, so a total of 3 inches, plus. And they're just popping and blooming and filling."
Gro forecasts Ohio's state soybean yield average below USDA's August estimate, at 52.7 bpa to USDA's 58 bpa average. Last year, Gro's final yield assessment for Ohio, 45.2 bpa, was almost 4 bpa less than USDA's 49 bpa average.
Bayliss farms on the eastern edge of Ohio's garden spot, which forms a triangle from Van Wert County in the north, to Logan and Champaign counties at the apex, to Preble County in the south. Gro estimates yields in that area range from 55 bpa to a high of 59.7 bpa in Darke County. Like corn, the state's lowest-yielding counties, which each average 44.8 bpa, are Defiance in the northwest and Summit County, home of Akron, in the northeast.
ABOUT THE TOUR
Now in its third year, the DTN/Progressive Farmer 2020 Digital Yield Tour, powered by Gro Intelligence, takes place Aug. 10-14 and provides an in-depth look at how the year's corn and soybean crops are progressing. Each day, we'll feature 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 2020 tour is sponsored by Claas.
The tour started in the west with the first day's articles focusing on Nebraska and South Dakota. On Tuesday, Aug. 11, the tour checked on crop conditions in Missouri and Kansas. On Aug. 12, the tour explored yield estimates from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. Today, Aug. 13, the tour examined the Eastern Corn Belt -- Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. On Friday, Aug. 14, the tour will take a final look at Gro's overall national yield predictions for the 2020 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. As a result, numbers quoted in the articles may differ slightly from those on the Gro website.
To see all the tour articles and related DTN stories about the 2020 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. In addition to Gro and USDA yield forecasts, the Gro platform provides a one-stop solution for assessing growing and market conditions leading up to this year's harvest.
To learn more about Gro, go here: https://gro-intelligence.com/….
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