By Larry W Dallas
August in Douglas County has not been what we usually see. We have had adequate moisture in what is often a dry month. The heat is not appreciated but it is moving the corn along toward maturity. When we pulled samples for our yield checks, some of the kernels were beginning to dent. The soybeans are still green and flowering. Overall things look pretty good.
Douglas County Farm Bureau has done a corn yield check for many years. The quick explanation is that we count the number of stalks with ears in a thousandth of an acre, then pull and count the number of kernels on three ears from that strip of row. This year we had 80 samples from all over the county. Using a constant of 80,000 kernels per bushel, we estimate the Douglas County corn yield to be 221 bushels to the acre this year. The estimates have been reasonably accurate through the years.
My column had an error last month. Brazil intends to increase soybean acres by 3 percenet when they plant that crop late this year. That will be equivalent to about a third of the beans Illinois grows each year. I erred by saying it would be the same acres as Illinois plants. It is a lot of soybeans either way, with Illinois planting around 10 million acres each year.
U.S. agriculture was dismayed to hear that African Swine Fever has broken out in the Dominican Republic. This is the hog disease that devastated China’s pork industry now just a thousand miles from our country. It does not affect humans but is always fatal to hogs. No vaccine has been developed to combat ASF. Depopulation is the only remedy currently.
ASF in this country would be a disaster, not only for the livestock industry but for grain farmers as well. Foreign exports of grain get the headlines, but domestic hogs, cattle, and chickens still eat a lot of corn each year. The byproducts of ethanol production go mostly to livestock feed too. Loss of that market even briefly would wreck grain prices. That could linger because, in China anyway, the disease has proven difficult to eradicate.
The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture crop production report came out on August 12. They project the average corn yield at 5 bushels below trend line yield and soybeans were a bushel below the July estimate. Neither of those sounds like a big change but, in the case of corn, there were 93.7 million acres of corn planted this year. That 5-bushel change is nearly 470 million bushels of corn. Both corn and soybean prices made nice jumps after the report.
Trend line yield is a concept used in the grain trade to come up with a projected yield before the crop is even in the ground. The yields of all crops have trended higher through the years. Fitting a line to those yields gives you a guess for the next year. It is a place to start when forecasting crop numbers. The USDA tends to hold tightly to those numbers.
Because of the production problems we have talked about before, U.S. production is more important than ever. Brazil has such a shortfall in their corn crop there is talk they will import corn for domestic feed use. The wheat-producing areas of the Black Sea region have been dry all season. The spring wheat areas of North America continue to be dry. They grow more soybeans than in past years, so that is one reason prices are so volatile.
I saw a rainfall map of Iowa that showed an area in the central part of the state that was 21 inches of rain below the average for this time of the year. We average 40 inches a year, so they are possibly behind half their yearly precipitation. The US drought monitor map calls that extreme drought.
Many elevators and other groups will be making yield checks in the coming weeks. The much-watched Pro Farmer tour kicks off Monday, August 16th. They hit all the Corn Belt states working toward a national average. Farmers, the grain industry, and end-users try to get a handle on what the final corn and soybean yields will be. Getting a jump on the rest of the industry might mean lower costs or better profits.
Douglas County Farm Bureau does not try to estimate soybean yields but some groups do. That is much harder to do with any accuracy. At this point in the season, you can count pods on a plant but mostly there is no bean in the pod yet. August weather is the make-or-break factor in soybean yields. Hot and dry weather the rest of the month will change the soybean yield prospect rapidly.
There are a myriad of things to do to prepare for harvest. Some are obvious. Combines and heads need to be gone over. There are other things you might not think of. We are looking at soil test information from our fields to determine what fields need lime to correct soil acidity. If you have driven in the country, you may have seen lime being stockpiled to spread after harvest. Hauling it to the field now should speed up the application later.
We are also using the soil tests as we think about fall fertilization. We spread most of the fertilizer on a variable rate basis, changing the application rate according to the soil test levels. After a good crop, we might want to move the base level up to reflect the larger nutrient removal by high yields.
We have been slowly getting ready for harvest. We sweep out our grain bins and check aeration fans and heaters. The remaining grain can harbor insects. It is preferable that the fans run when you start filling a bin. Warm moisture-laden corn needs air moving through it to keep very long. It needs to be 15 percent moisture to be stored safely. Soybeans are usually lower in moisture, but they too need to be cooled down. The heat coming out of a bin of soybeans cut on an 85-degree day is amazing.
We might be into harvest before my next column. Please watch out for us as we move on the road to complete harvest. Thank you for reading about Douglas County agriculture this month.