MT. JULIET, Tenn. (DTN) -- The corn crop's revival story continues on the third day of the 2023 DTN Digital Yield Tour. Gro Intelligence's corn yield estimate for Nebraska has rebounded 21% from its lows in late June. There's above-average potential in Iowa despite its variability, while some of Wisconsin's prime farmland has had little reprieve from drought.
The DTN Digital Yield Tour, now in its sixth year, looks at how the corn and soybean crops are progressing using Gro's yield models, which update daily to incorporate new data. Yield projections are generated using satellite imagery, rainfall data, temperature maps and much more beginning at the county level. County yield averages are then used to generate state and national yield estimates.
On Wednesday, Aug. 9, Gro's models put corn yields above five-year averages in Nebraska and Iowa, at 189.5 and 202 bushels per acre (bpa), respectively. Iowa's estimate is just 2 bpa shy of the record set in 2021. After back-to-back record seasons, Wisconsin's crop didn't get relief from July rains, and Gro's yield estimate dropped to 172.2 bpa.
"We know we started this season with a lot of stress," Gro Intelligence Senior Analyst Jon Haines said. "Soil moisture is low, so even more than normal, it's about where it did rain and where it didn't."
Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin all faced heat and building drought early in the season. "The rains that have come since have been quite variable. And outside of a stretch in late July, the temperatures were much more variable as well," DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick said.
DTN Lead Analyst Todd Hultman said the most impressive argument Gro made for its Nebraska estimate is the dramatic improvement to the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) over the past six weeks.
"Honestly, I'm a little stunned by a corn yield estimate of 189.5 bushels per acre for Nebraska and am still trying to absorb what the data says," Hultman said. "I still have to wonder if early stress took off more corn yield than models indicate and feel that no matter how yields turn out, we're all going to learn something valuable from this unusual year of weather."
Soybeans across the third day of the tour showed more variability than in corn, with Nebraska's estimate coming in below the five-year average at 55.6 bpa, Iowa ahead of average at 58.4 bpa and Wisconsin right on average at 51.5 bpa.
Gro Intelligence Senior Analyst Kelly Goughary said county yield estimates show a sweeping variety of yield estimates. "It's interesting to see that yields versus average aren't nearly as strong in soybeans as they are in corn. Maybe it's just because now is their time to shine, and maybe we'll see the impact of rain as we move forward."
You can also learn more about Gro Intelligence's yield models by attending the DTN Ag Summit Series virtual event on Tuesday, Aug. 15. Gro analysts will explain more about their model and take questions. You can find more information at www.dtn.com/agsummit.
Details on Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin's corn and soybean crops can be found below.
This is the third day of the Digital Yield Tour. Read the first and second stories here:
-- Day 1, National: https://www.dtnpf.com/…
-- Day 2, IL IN OH: https://www.dtnpf.com/…
On Thursday, our coverage moves to Missouri and Kansas. We'll conclude on Friday with details on South Dakota and Minnesota.
For your convenience, all the stories, videos and images from the tour can be found at https://spotlights.dtnpf.com/….
Corn: 189.5 bpa
-- USDA five-year average: 182.6 bpa
-- High: Phelps County, 219.8 bpa
-- Low: Banner County, 110 bpa
Soybeans: 55.6 bpa
-- USDA five-year average: 57.3 bpa
-- High: Dawson County, 67.1 bpa
-- Low: Dawes County, 30.1 bpa
Weather Comments: Baranick said Nebraska has had great luck with rainfall. "Drought there has been reduced significantly, even if it doesn't show up on the Drought Monitor."
While a lot of western and eastern Nebraska have seen well-above-normal rainfall, even there, you can find some disappointment.
"The rains still came from thunderstorms, which are fickle things regarding rain distribution," Baranick said. "And the rains there have also come with a host of severe weather. I've heard a lot about hail damage in that state."
Gro Comments: "I think Nebraska goes with the theme of revival or rebound," Goughary said, adding that the state had the highest June drought reading in 20 years.
Nebraska's top-yielding county, Phelps County, is a common contender in this category due to its large amount of irrigated acreage. While Phelps leads the state's estimates at nearly 220 bushels per acre, that's still 5 bushels below the county's five-year average.
-- On Tuesday morning, Justin Schernikau, of Beaver Crossing, Nebraska, was planting a cover crop on a field south of Waco, Nebraska, just off I-80. A hailstorm on July 4 destroyed the corn that was here and on five other of his fields.
"This is the second year we got hailed out," he told DTN. "We've got cattle, so at least we got to chop it for silage."
The corn was chopped on Monday, and a day later, he was now planting Sudan grass as a cover crop to keep the weeds from taking over. "So, then we'll let it get really tall, and it'll probably freeze off and we'll put cows in here. And then they'll graze it off."
As for his crops this year, in the Aug. 1 drought monitor, they remained in areas of D3 -- extreme drought. But 2.5 inches of rain July 4, another 1.5 inches a couple of weeks ago, and more rain expected Tuesday night has been welcome.
He said the dryland corn looks better than it once did, and it could make 50 to 60 bushels per acre.
On his irrigated corn, he hoped to get 230 bpa but said it could be 215 bpa. He had been hailed on his soybeans and said he'd be lucky to get "40 to 55 to 60 bpa" on land he usually got 80-90 bpa.
-- Wood River, Nebraska, farmer Kevin Harsch needed to use his pivot to soften the ground for planting this spring. He still faced uneven emergence, and drought continued in his area. On July 4, his area got a good rain, but it was followed by two hot weeks during pollination time.
"We did OK in pollination, but we got some areas that were stressed, and really, really suffered during that time. And since then, you know, we've ... caught some rains here, we've cooled off, so ... moisture-wise, we've only caught up now, we're not set back."
Harsch's irrigated fields look good. "Our yields on the farm, I think we're going to be pretty good this year," he said. "They're not going to be bin-buster by any stretch or means."
However, he said, "We're thankful we're all here. We're 100% irrigated, so we're going to have a good solid crop, barring we don't get a weather event."
He thinks his crop overall will be a little better than average. On one of his better cornfields, he estimated he was going to average about 235 bpa.
Corn: 202 bpa
-- USDA five-year average: 195 bpa
-- High: Jasper County, 216 bpa
-- Low: Davis County, 177.7 bpa
Soybeans: 58.4 bpa
-- USDA five-year average: 57.3 bpa
-- High: Mahaska County, 63.8 bpa
-- Low: Appanoose, 47.2 bpa
Weather Comments: Iowa's rains have been a mixed bag, Baranick said, with southern and southwestern areas faring better than the northeast.
"Rains have been quite timely in a lot of the state. But like Nebraska, they've been variable. None of these areas had a whole lot of subsoil moisture to get through the dry stretches, and so if the rains were lighter, they really made a difference in the yield forecast," Baranick said. "There's a lot of variability within the state that matches the rainfall patterns over the last few weeks. Still, it's hard to believe that there's as much actual drought in Iowa as the Drought Monitor map shows."
Gro Comments: "Iowa, wow. What a garden this year," Goughary said. Gro's yield estimate is 2 bushels shy of a state record, which she said is impressive considering the variability this year.
Some of Iowa's highest county yield estimates are to the southeast of Des Moines. Jasper takes top honors with an average of 216 bpa. County estimates of 200 bpa or more are evenly distributed across the state, even in spots that have shown fairly significant drought.
Iowa's soybean map shows much more variability than corn, Goughary said. The state's highest and lowest county yield estimates are only a few counties apart and highlight just how important rain fall has been.
In southwest Iowa, scattered rains in July offer Kevin Ross more confidence about his crops than earlier in the summer.
"They look way better than they did a month ago," Ross said. "Five or six weeks ago, you could have bought every acre around here for an average crop number. Everybody was thinking we were heading down the tubes. The rains came and it looks really good right now."
Most of southwest Iowa has been stuck in D2 severe drought conditions since planting season. Ross planted his soybeans in late April and wrapped up his corn planting on May 20. A lot of his concerns about yield involve those early planting conditions, especially planting no-till soybeans in dry soils with stubble.
"That's the biggest issue I saw around here is that the stands on beans are not nearly as good as you would like to see," Ross said. "You know that's going to translate to yield, but every little planting hiccup that you had showed up because it was so dry. You get forgiven for a lot of that stuff when you get moisture, but we didn't have that."
Ross said his soybean yield "might have taken some off the top end" but should remain positive as long as the rains continue throughout August.
Last year, soybean yields in Pottawattamie County dipped a bit as the rains didn't show up in August. The county had a 51 bpa, down from the county's 10-year average of 55.7 bpa.
Corn has made it through the pollination stage, and the kernels are filling out. Ross said he expects the crop will come in at about the 10-year average in Pottawattamie County, which is 194.9 bpa. Last year's crop was 195 bpa. Ross said he expects local yields to run anywhere from 180-210 bpa.
-- DTN visited Ross's farm last week. Watch the video here: https://www.dtnpf.com/….
-- Watch the corn grow. DTN, in partnership with Farmers' Independent Research in Seed Technology, have placed a camera in eight FIRST test plots, adding a new image to the video each day. View the camera in Sanborn County, Iowa, here: https://www.dtnpf.com/….
Corn: 172.2 bpa
-- USDA five-year average: 174.2 bpa
-- High: Pierce County, 187.3 bpa
-- Low: Bayfield County, 109.9 bpa
Soybeans: 51.5 bpa
-- USDA five-year average: 51.2 bpa
-- High: Lafayette County, 62 bpa
-- Low: Ashland County, 31.6 bpa
Weather Comments: While the drought monitor map might not make a lot of sense based on recent rainfall in Nebraska and Iowa, it does in Wisconsin, Baranick said.
"There's a pocket of D3 drought in the south, and there's a solid decline in yields compared to average in those areas. That's also the most productive part of the state, typically. Rains have been skipping over that part of the state while being much more generous in central and northern areas over the last month. While the yields look better than average there, there's just not a lot of productive cropland to balance out enough of the declines in the south."
Gro Comments: Wisconsin's had a bumpy road this growing season. Drought didn't get as severe as other parts of the country, but it hasn't seen the improving conditions like others did, Haines said.
Typically, Wisconsin's highest-yielding corn county comes from the bottom tier of counties bordering Illinois. This year, it's just outside of the Twin Cities in Pierce County. Persistent dryness was seen in the southern third of the state.
Gro's soybean yield estimate for the state is nearly even with the five-year average, and that makes sense given the range of potential yields from 31.6 bushels per acre along Lake Superior to 62 bpa along the Illinois border.
DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton and DTN/Progressive Farmer Associate Content Manager Elaine Shein contributed to this article.
Katie Dehlinger can be reached at email@example.com.
Follow her on Twitter at @KatieD_DTN
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