The Pro Farmer Tour, When Corn And Soybean Yield Estimates Count

THE PRO FARMER TOUR RESULTS:

This week is a big week for Grain Farmers all across the Nation.  This week brings an annual tradition, the annual Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour.  This tour has one simple goal in mind, to evaluate the potential yields of the corn and soybean crops on a state by state basis across the Midwest.  Why is this important?  Their findings can set the tone for the rest of the season  going into harvest (follow #harvest14 on twitter) and has an effect on the prices which farmers receive for their crops.  To sum it up, if the Pro Farmer Tour finds an above average crop, then the market prices would theoretically go down, if they find a below average crop, then the market prices would theoretically go up.  Keep in mind, I said THEORETICALLY, as the grain market is never that simple.

As some of you may recall, yesterday I wrote about how we conduct yield estimates on our own corn fields.  You can view it by clicking here.  The numbers we estimated in our own fields are great information for us to use for our own purposes, but in order to get a handle on what the nations farmers will produce for the year, we need to broaden our testing area.  The Pro Farmer Tour does just that!

A 100 acre Corn Test Plot Comparing Various Varieties of Corn in IL

A 100 acre Corn Test Plot Comparing Various Varieties of Corn in IL

About the tour:

To sum it up, the Pro Farmer tour is conducted by a group of crop scouts who are hands on in the fields of the Midwest.  These scouts have one job to do, scout the fields and report what they find.  Good, bad, or indifferent.  These scouts go from area to area, stopping in fields along the way checking corn and soybeans for what their potential yield may be come harvest.

Determining Corn Yields:

The renowned Agricultural web site, AgWeb.com may have said it best:

“…scouts count the number of ears that will make grain on two 30-foot rows, then pull the fifth, eighth and 11th ear from one row (three total ears).  On those sample ears, scouts count (and average) the number of kernel rows around and measure (and average) the length of grain on each ear in inches. The final piece of data for the yield calculation is row spacing.”

Determining Soybean Yields:  

Again, AgWeb.com did a great job explaining how the tour scouts come up with the figures:

“In each soybean field, scouts go to a “representative” area of the field and lay out a 3-foot plot. All the plants are counted in the plot, then three plants are pulled at random. All the pods on the three plants are counted and an average number of pods per plant is calculated. To determine the total number of pods in 3-foot of row, multiply the average number of pods per plant by the total number of plants in 3-foot of row.”

Soybeans are a hard nut to crack so to speak.  Their final yield can vary greatly depending on the size of the soybean, which wont be determined for quite some time yet.  So rather than estimate the yield completely, the Tour Scouts count the number of soybean pods on each plant and compare that figure to those of other tested areas and states.  While this doesn’t translate directly to bushels per acre, its safe to say that the more pods there are, the greater chance there is of having a good soybean crop.

Soybeans Growing on my Farm in IL, Taken in June 2014

Soybeans Growing on my Farm in IL, Taken in June 2014

The Results of the 2014 Pro Farmer Crop Tour:

Back in 2012, the majority of the nation was in a major drought.  Crops were barely hanging on, and were in dire need of water, sacrificing yield along the way.  2013 brought a glimmer of hope for those same farmers bringing in a good corn crop and many farmers had the opportunity to harvest the best crop of soybeans they’ve seen in their entire careers.  In 2014 however, due to the abundant harvest of 2013, the market prices are down (supply vs demand) and farmers NEED a great corn and soybean crop to make ends meet.  In some areas, that just may happen, however others may not be as fortunate.  Lets dig into the tour results to see where those good and not as good areas are.

Since our farm is based in IL, lets start with the Tours Results for IL, which can be found directly by clicking on the headings below.

Pro Farmer 2014 Tour Illinois Results:

Corn: 196.6 bushels per acre average over 190 trials   vs a 149.36 bushel/ac average over 3 years (including the drought year)

Soybeans: 1299.17 pod count average in 177 trials vs a 1085.35 average pod count over 3 years (including the drought year)

Pro Farmer 2014 Tour Nebraska Results:

Corn: 163.77 bu/ac average over 273 trials vs a 146.81 bushel/ac average over 3 years (including the drought year)

Soybeans: 1103.26 pod count average in 265 trials vs a 1106.62 average pod count over 3 years (including the drought year)

Pro Farmer 2014 Tour Indiana Results:

Corn: 185.03 bu/ac average over 168 trials vs a 141.24 bushel/ac average over 3 years (including the drought year)

Soybeans: 1220.79 pod count average in 165 trials vs a 1118.65 average pod count over 3 years (including the drought year)

 

So what do all these numbers mean?  

To sum it up, there is a really good potential for a good corn and soybean crop for #harvest14.  Are the numbers above written in stone?  No, of course not.  The final harvested bushels per acre will be different, as they are influenced by timely rains, lack of rain, or damaging storms that affect both the corn and soybean crops.  Right now, these numbers are good estimates of what the grain traders can expect U.S. farmers to produce for the year.

How Farmers Benefit from the Tour:

The running joke is: When a farmer goes into a coffee shop, sits down with his neighbor farmers, the discussion will eventually turn to how well the cops are doing.  (Let the fish stories begin)  In this situation, the first BS’er is always dead in the water.  If he says he/she has 180 bushels per acre in the field, the next guy will surely have a field estimated at 185 and so on.

The Pro Farmers Tour helps get around that scenario, presenting “Just the Facts”.  As a farmer, knowing these figures helps us better market our own individual crops.  If we think the estimated numbers are low, and more bushels per acre will be harvested than the Tour shows, we may sell some of our growing crops early to avoid a decline in market prices when the added supply hits the market.  If we think the estimated numbers are high, we may hold on to our grain for a longer period of time in hopes that the market prices will rise when the expected supply doesn’t materialize.

At the end of the day, although we may not always agree with the results, we know the results are fairly accurate estimates based on a large data set,  and we as farmers, greatly appreciate everything the people at the Pro Farmer Tour do.

 

Sources: Pro Farmers Tour and AgWeb

 

Farming 101: How do farmers estimate their corn yields before harvest?

If you drive around the countryside this time of the year (mid August) you will find number of farms with their shed doors open, some farm machinery sitting around the yard, and farmers busily prepping for the coming harvest.  Our farm is no different.  For the last few weeks we have been taking steps to prep for this years harvest.  (You can follow many farmers harvest on twitter with the #harvest14 hashtag.)

One of the most important things we do this time of the year is to create yield estimations of our corn fields.  This is very important, and gives us a good idea about what yields to expect in our fields at harvest.  By having the estimates we can develop a “Plan A” for #harvest14 which will determine how many acres worth of corn we can store in our bins, how many acres of corn we will need to haul to the grain elevator straight from the fields and how much LP (liquid propane) we will have to purchase to dry the corn we store in our bins.  While the estimates are just that, estimates, they help provide us with a pretty accurate guess as to how many bushels per acre in our fields.

 

Corn picked and labeled from various fields

Corn picked and labeled from various fields

Here is how we do a corn yield estimate:

Conducting a corn yield estimate is actually fairly simple, and if you have any sweetcorn handy, you can do this too!   We start by picking a handful of sample ears from a few fields, label them by field name with a marker to keep them separate from the other fields corn.  Yields can vary from field to field and corn hybrid to corn hybrid, so we try to be as thorough as we can when picking the sample ears and keeping them separate.

 When we go into a field to grab ears, naturally we are drawn to the large ears.  Its hard not to pick the best looking ears out there, but that’s not what we are after.  We want to pick ears that are a good representative of the field.  To do so we choose the ears at “random” from at least 2 different areas in the field.

We first choose an area of the field  that looks “average” meaning it’s not the best spot in the field, but it’s not the worst either.  After choosing those areas, we enter the fields, walk at least 100 feet into the fields and find a row or two that again, qualify to be considered “average”.    Now comes the hard part, avoiding picking those nice LARGE ears that you naturally get drawn to.  To avoid doing so, we literally close our eyes and take a few steps forward, feeling for an ear.  When we touch an ear, we pick it, then take a few more steps and pick another, then another.  Generally speaking, we take 2-3 ears from each area we walk into.  This “random” picking of a few ears in multiple areas in the field gives us a decent representation of what the entire fields ears may look like.

While in the same area, we also need to determine now many ears per acre there are.  To do so, we measure 17.5′ long (1/1000th of an acre using 30″ wide rows) and count every ear in that length.  While picking these areas, we found the average number of ears to be 32.  So we multiply 32 by 1000 to get, 32000,  the overall ear population in one acre. (this is important for later)

Ears picked from a 100 ac field of 105 day #2 Yellow Field Corn

Ears picked from a 100 ac field of 105 day #2 Yellow Field Corn

After we pick and label the corn, we take it to the shop to be husked and counted using a simple formula to estimate their potential yield.

Here is how:

Take an ear of corn and simply count how many kernels it has on it.  Simple right?  That may take a while.  Instead of counting every kernel, we simply count how many rows of kernels (Around)  there are on the ear and write that number down.

AG FACT:  A ear of corn will ALWAYS have an even number of rows around on it.  Usually ranging from 14-18.

After you have the number of rows around, we now need to count the number of kernels long.  Starting at the bottom end of the ear, and omitting the last few kernels on the bottom and top, count the number of kernels in one row long.  These numbers usually range from 28-42.  We do this for each ear, then average them all together.

 

Here is an example of how the estimates work.

Lets say you have 5 ears, after counting them all up, you come up with:

36 kernels long on average

16 rows around on average

and had the 32000 ear population stated above.

So: 36 x 18 x 32000 = 18,432,000 kernels of corn in one acre

From here we need to turn those kernels into bushels.  Normally, a bushel of corn weighs around 56lb and can contain anywhere from 75,000 to 90,000 kernels.  In order to keep our yield estimates on the conservative side, we will use the 90,000 figure, keeping our estimates lower.

18,432,000 / 90000 =  204.8 bushels per acre

Here is an example from our fields taken yesterday:  NOTE:  This particular variety has larger kernels than normal so we also conducted an estimate using a 80000 kernels per bushel figure.

Ears picked, and estimated from our field on 8/19/14

Ears picked from our field on 8/19/14.  This field has some wind damage causing the ears to be smaller than normal.

This group of ears averaged 36.3 long x 15.3333333333 around x 32000 ear population = 17,811,200

17,811,200 / 90,000 = 197.90 bushels per acre

17,811,200 / 80,000 = 222.64 bushels per acre

Although the combine will tell us what the yields really are, now that we have some basic yield estimates we can make a plan to haul the correct amount of bushels to our bin sites or the grain elevator for storage during harvest.   

The next time you have corn on the cob for dinner, you can do the exact same yield estimate on your ear as we did here to see what it could have yielded if harvested like field corn would be.

Have any questions or comments?  I would like to hear from you!  Please comment below!  I look forward to talking with you!