When Greg Preston made his crop estimate announcements on Aug. 10, he talked of an east-side, west-side story in Indiana, with good yields along the west side and poor yields along the east side. But perhaps his most important statement was when he qualified that later, and noted that even within these areas, there are good and bad crops, all related to where rain fell and where it didn't.
Preston is head statistician and director of the Indiana Ag Statistics Service. No ear weights or exact measurements were included in data used to make the first crop survey, announced August 10. Indiana's state average was pegged at 156 bushels per acre, about the same as last year. Coupled with acreage planted, it put Indiana's corn crop at an estimated one billion bushels for the first time ever.
Don't reach for the recordbooks just yet. Input feeding computer models for that August release were based on field checks, which consisted mostly of counting ears and other plant factors. Population is up, Preston says, especially in counties in western Indiana where 20-inch rows are becoming more common.
The next estimate announced in early September will be based on field checks during the last 10 days of August. Ears will actually be sent to labs and analyzed for ear diameter, length and kernel depth. As August heat and lack of rain continues to plague parts of Indiana, some suspect those estimates will drop. Chris Hurt, Purdue University ag economist, is on record in a report aired on the Hoosier Ag Today radio network, hosted by Gary Truitt, as expecting average yield could wind up closer to 147 bushels per acre. Off record, another Purdue specialist in fields almost every day thinks a yield as low as 140 bushels per acre isn't out of the question.
Farmers reporting in seem to confirm that the biggest challenge is getting a handle on what is out there, because it varies by key rainfall or lack of it, and those rainfalls came or didn't come at random all summer long. Jim Culp in northwest Indiana meets the profile- he's been getting the rain he needs on time since mid-June. Bruce Buchanan's crops at Fowler were blessed with 8 inches of rain in May and June, and are in good shape.
But Randy Kron, in the southwest corner of the state, in an areas till supposedly blessed with good rain, has missed most of them. He's looking at 60 to 70% of yield.
Farmers in northeast Indiana say their crops aren't bad, but the refrain is similar. "Go five miles north or five miles south, and they're awful."
Rumors are that some farmers in LaPorte County on dry land wonder if it will pay to take the combine to the field. Yes, LaPorte is along the western side of Indiana. Some soils there are sandy. Sandy soils without rain is a recipe for disaster.
The message is clear. It's a year of have's and have nots- have rain vs. not have rain. Everyioen received heat late, and it's not clear how that will factor in. The question is how many of each are out there. The answer may not be clear until the combine runs this fall.
Here's a parting thought. The retired ag climatologist, Jim Newman, studied weather vs. USDA crop predictions for decades. In years with dry, stressful weather, reports nearly always decrease from the August report forward. A word of caution- Indiana is the focus here, not national yields. That picture is also somewhat patchwork, but reports indicate crops in Nebraska and Iowa, plus most of Illinois, north of I-70, still look very favorable.