Slow-growing 2019 soybeans contrast greatly to historic 2018 yields

By Larry W. Dallas, president
Douglas County Farm Bureau
The crops finally look better in Douglas County. It would be a stretch to say they look good, however. There are many fields of corn that will pollinate three weeks later than we are accustomed to, possibly in hotter and drier conditions based on long term weather forecasts. Even our earliest planted soybeans are short and slow-growing. We are comparing this year to 2018, the best many of us had in our farming careers and that is a little unfair. Still, it is hard to be optimistic about the yields for 2019.

Our early corn is pollinating with pretty good moisture conditions. In the heat of early July, we added growing degree units at a fast pace which moved the corn along to tasseling. We had some pretty warm nights as well and we have talked before that corn needs cooler nights to rest. How much that will affect yields won’t be known until fall. There are still many fields that are only waist-high and won’t pollinate until early August. For many years the Farm Bureau Marketing Committee has done a corn yield check ahead of the US Department of Agriculture August crop report that is in the second week of that month. This year we are going to delay that yield check until early September so that we have some actual corn ears to evaluate. 

During the hot afternoons, it is easy to see the effects of the compaction we caused during planting. Corn plants in the compacted ends and corners roll their leaves. The compromised root system can’t pull water out of the ground as fast as it is losing it out of the plant leaves and the leaves roll to protect the plant. On very hot days we have seen some grayish areas in our soybeans, again compacted places where they are short on water. We hope to be able to remedy some of that compaction this fall with deep tillage, some kind of deep-rooted cover crop plant or that a cold winter freezes some of the compaction layers out of the soil. The urge to do a lot of fall tillage will be hard to resist. That will be seen as the surest way to break up soil compaction to allow water infiltration and root growth next year. 

The grain markets and a lot of farmers got a big surprise in June when the latest USDA crop report showed increased corn acres. This was despite very slow planting progress that had only reached two thirds in the entire country by that late date. Everyone has an anecdote about a farmer that couldn’t complete planting or was very late in getting finished up. We know firsthand that northern Illinois will have a lot of prevent plant corn acres. Ohio farmers were planting corn long into June but that will have a poor chance of a good yield. The USDA report didn’t make any sense after the long wet spring virtually the entire country had experienced. Even though they did lower the projected national corn and bean yields there was a lot of head-scratching about the acreage numbers. 

Of course, if that report had caused the markets to go up, you would hear no complaints from farmers. That news, however, caused a big drop in commodity prices. If we will have a lot of acres of corn, a farmer may need to make sales at these prices expecting that corn will be worthless this fall after a large production. If we are going to see a short crop, I would wait to make more sales until prices have gone up. One of the better-known market advice guys has long complained that there should be no crop reports because these tell our competitors and customers what to expect. I guess I like knowing what is coming and making decisions based on that knowledge.

The lack of reliable information is a frustration many farmers have. Weather forecasts are getting better I guess but they still often seem no better than throwing darts at a board. When you are mowing hay that will need two or three dry days to cure, a reliable forecast is paramount. Otherwise, you might have to bale worthless hay ruined by rain. We were required to report the acres we planted of each crop and planting date to the Farm Service Agency by July 22 this year. The people making the crop estimates don’t seem to be able to access these numbers for their yield projections until after harvest. National Agriculture Statistics employees have test areas in the major crop-producing states but actual yields remain a mystery until well after harvest. Often that production number makes no sense but the various uses of the crop are massaged to have the right ending number.  It seems like a lot of money is spent to give the grain trade numbers it doesn’t believe. The farmers in this area don’t anyway. 

Since planting ran a month later than normal, all of our other work has been telescoped together. We would ordinarily have mowed our roadsides the first time around Memorial Day. This year we haven’t been over all of them yet the first time. We don’t like to do it on hot days because it tears the roads up and gets road oil all over the tractors. Most people have just finished spraying the final herbicide trip on soybeans. There is a little bit of fungicide being sprayed on corn. The spray planes you might have seen running out of the airport are doing that. That is another decision to be made. The humid weather is conducive to plant diseases that can severely affect yields but does this crop have enough potential to warrant spending more money on it. Weed control in soybeans ranges from excellent to horrible. Problems with the timing of herbicide and slow growth of the soybeans are working against us.

It is time to start preparing for harvest too. We are moving grain out of our bins to get them ready to refill. This corn crop will probably be wet so we need to check out the drying burners and fans to get the corn dried for storage. We have a repair we want to make on our planter before we put it away and the harvest machinery all needs to be gone over. A lot of farmers are ready for this year to be over and look forward to a better year in 2020.  It has been hard to maintain a good outlook with such a long unsatisfying planting season. Illinois Farm Bureau has printed some articles about mental health and stress after this rough spring. The last four months haven’t been any fun in this area and we got done planting. I can’t imagine how the guys in the areas that have big prevent planting acreage feel. 

After too much rain all spring, a nice shower would help as I write this. Farmers are human and seldom happy it seems. Thank you for reading about Douglas County agriculture this month. 

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