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Corn and soybean forecasts: Uncertainty remains

Purdue specialists say there’s plenty of room to debate final crop sizes in Indiana and nationwide.

Tom J Bechman 1, Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer

August 13, 2019

4 Min Read
corn in field up close
CLOUDY CORN PICTURE: This field was about two weeks from tasseling on July 25. Whether drought stress holds, intensifies or breaks will play into final corn yield, Bob Nielsen says.

The market’s reaction indicates traders believe USDA’s numbers are on target for planted acres and yield for this strange season. However, several Purdue University specialists say there’s still a long way to go before this crop is in the bin, and still room for debate to shake out on actual planted acreage, especially for corn.

Bob Nielsen, Purdue Extension corn specialist, says what’s happening with dry weather right now could have an impact on the corn crop. “Corn isn’t rooted very well, and there was lots of soil compaction created by planting wet in many cases,” he says. “We’re seeing effects of drought perhaps sooner than we might have anticipated. I believe rooting issues are playing a role.”

Central Indiana, west-central Indiana and parts of southern Indiana entered early stages of drought classification last week. Many late-planted fields are silking and pollinating. Nielsen says drought stress could impact pollination and lead to possible kernel abortion if the drought continues.

Beth Hall, state climatologist, says relief in terms of above-normal precipitation might be in the offing, but not for a couple of weeks. Over the latter half of the next month, some forecasts are calling for warmer temperatures and above-normal precipitation. However, she notes that long-term forecasts haven’t always been reliable this year. “It’s just a strange year for weather,” she says.

Warmer than normal would be welcome news, if moisture comes with it and the warmth continues into September and October, Nielsen says. “If you planted 100-day corn by June 20, even in northern Indiana, my calculations indicate it should mature OK, unless there is an earlier-than-normal killing freeze.”

However, maturity is one thing; corn drying down quickly and being ready to harvest easily is another, Nielsen acknowledges. “Even at black layer, we’re looking at 30% moisture,” he says. “We need to get under that to harvest efficiently. Field drydown in October can be slow. We need warm, sunny days.”

Soybean picture

Shaun Casteel, Purdue Extension soybean specialist, says the jury is out on this late-planted crop until September. “Usually August is the key time for soybeans,” he says. “This year, it’s going to be September. It will be the make-it-or-break-it month for soybeans.”

Many are in the R3 reproductive stage now, just putting on pods, he says. That usually occurs about three weeks earlier. There’s still time to make management decisions on soybeans and decide whether to apply fungicides or insecticides, based on need. However, Nielsen notes we’re past that period on corn.

“I would still scout and once ears form, start making preseason yield estimates,” Nielsen says. “It may be more important to do that this year than in some other years, so you know what kind of crop to expect to handle at harvest.”

Based on current predictions, Casteel expects about 50% of Indiana’s soybean crop to reach R7, or the leaf shedding stage, by the first week of October. That puts harvest beginning in mid-October. The other 50% may run two to three weeks behind. Soybeans need a warm, sunny October and late killing freeze, too.

Prevented planting debate

USDA didn’t drop planted corn acres significantly nationwide, and yield didn’t drop nearly as much as the trade expected. Soybean acreage and yield were more in line with expectations, although Purdue’s Chris Hurt, an ag economist, says reduced usage numbers on the demand side offset expected production drops.

There’s currently a large discrepancy between the planted acres the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service is projecting and what the Farm Service Agency has reported for prevented planting acres nationwide.

“That debate will need to shake out over the next few weeks and months,” says Jim Mintert, director of Purdue’s Center for Commercial Agriculture. “There is certainly room for interpretation and discussion there.”

Greg Matli, Indiana state statistician with USDA-NASS, reports the numbers he’s given. He adds a few caveats that may shed light on why there are differences. FSA is reporting what farmers have reported to them, but those reports are preliminary and not finalized yet. USDA-NASS based its August yield estimate this year strictly on two things. First, the agency resurveyed farmers who had not planted yet during the first survey in June. That rarely happens, but this year, it was necessary, Matli says. Second, the yield projections are based on what farmers told USDA-NASS they expected for yield in farmer surveys. USDA-NASS enumerators have not been to the fields yet to take stand counts.

“We weren’t going to do that in 2019 even before the year turned out strange, because we just haven’t been getting enough good data for the money invested in those visits,” Matli explains.

For the September crop report, enumerators will visit fields the last week of August, take stand counts, and hopefully be able to measure ears and count pods.  

“You also need to know that even if corn was planted and failed, it counts as planted acreage in our estimate,” he says. “If farmers planted corn or soybeans on cover crop acres once allowed, those also count in planted corn and soybean acres. We looked at FSA data, but it wasn’t all in yet.”

The next planted acreage update from USDA-NASS comes with the October report, Matli says. FSA data will be factored into that report.

About the Author(s)

Tom J Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer

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