Not all Hoosiers are convinced that the lofty national and state corn averaged for this year's corn crop issued by USDA as the August crop estimate will hold up. The national number was at or above trend, and Indiana's estimate was above trend yield. That's despite extensive flooding damage and late planting in the southern two-thirds of Indiana, and extensive flooding also in parts of Iowa, Missouri and Illinois.
Recent history isn't too reassuring, however. Not everyone believed last year's August estimate either, but it proved reasonably accurate, although USDA did finally back yields off a touch in final numbers. Last year in Indiana, it was a tale of two sides of the state, notes Greg Preston, state statistician, representing Indiana Ag Statistics, part of USDA"s National Ag Statistics Service.
Preston reminds farmers, though, that this first estimate is based largely only field checks in late July at specified spots selected at random across the Corn Belt. In Indiana, that means corn yields are checked in about 200 fields. Enumerators will go back to the same spots at the end of August, then at the end of September. Since corn was delayed in most areas, there was little chance to do more than count stalks on the first trip that fed into the August estimate. Ears should be developed and factor into the September report. That information will be collected the last week of August.
"I just don't believe it's there," says one ag businessman. This Hoosier has traveled the Corn Belt extensively over the last month. "I don't believe it's here in Indiana, and I don't believe it's out there nationwide. There are just too many rough areas and rough fields to end up at that kind of yield."
The sleeping giant that could become the 800 pound gorilla has gone unmentioned by most folks. Many seem to forget it's August 18, yet only the earliest –planted fields are advancing toward guaranteed maturity. Last week fields planted the last week of May were still in limbo between the milk stage and dough stage. The 10-day stretch of below normal weather in Indiana concluding early this week was good for the Indiana State Fair and people, but not so favorable for crops. Maximums in the growing degree day formula weren't reached anytime during that period. That means heat units continue to be slow to accumulate, and it's the accumulation of heat units that drives maturity and the race to black layer in corn.
In the worst case, frost could nip some fields. That might only be if it's an early frost, at least for areas except replanted corn, which might get stopped short even by a normal frost. Insiders say this condition is not limited to Indiana. The entire Corn Belt is running one to two weeks behind schedule. The extreme northern edges of the Corn Belt may be even further behind than that. There are reportedly areas in the Dakotas where even a normal first killing frost could nip many fields before they reach black layer, since planting was so heavily delayed there.
In the best case, corn makes it, but is wet. It's been years, for some farmers perhaps as long ago as 1992, since they handled very wet corn at harvest. That's going to mean boning up on how to handle wet corn, using up more high-priced fuel than desired, or else taking bigger docks at the elevator than farmers usually want to take. It will also mean paying attention to stored grain, and boning up on how to aerate and store it properly. The unkindest cut of all could be a bin of corn that goes out of condition during storage because you tried to cut corners, or forgot how much aeration it really takes ro get a bin of corn dry enough to store. Many are storing corn longer now than when the last late season necessitated handling lots of wet corn.