Yields down but could have been worse
The fall harvest is just about wrapped up, and it has gone much better than farmers expected. Iowa State University field agronomist Jim Fawcett said that he expects corn yields in Iowa to be about 140 bushels per acre and for bean yields to be about 50 bushels per acre.
“The corn yields are definitely down from a year ago but not as bad as some people were afraid of,” he said. “A lot of farmers were thinking they would average under 100 bushels per acre because we had such extreme heat and dryness during pollination. The rains didn’t come until August, which we normally think is too late to help corn.”
Some farmers were really hurt by the drought. Fawcett heard of fields yielding 50 bushels of corn or less, while others yielded over 200.
Fawcett said that what kept the corn alive over the summer was its unusually deep roots. Corn roots typically go down about 5 feet, but farmers reported roots that were up to 7 or 8 feet in the ground.
Soybean yields were variable, just as the corn yields were.
“Some farmers got the best bean yields they’ve ever gotten, while others will be using crop insurance,” he said. “In general, this was not a record-breaking year for bean yields, but it was pretty good. I expect the average to be less than last year, but not much less.”
What could be record-breaking are the profits off this year’s crop. Even though yields were down, Fawcett says it should be a good year for farmers at the bank because of the high commodity prices.
“The commodity prices are about double what they were a few years ago, and our yields weren’t cut in half,” he said. “The last time I checked, corn was selling for $7.50 a bushel and beans were selling around $15 a bushel. For many years, $2-bushel was the norm corn and $6-bushel for soybeans. That’s changed in the last five to seven years.”
Fawcett added that, even where yields are poor, farmers still have crop insurance to fall back on.
Even now that the crops are out of the field, farmers are still praying for rain, so the plants have something to drink next year. Fawcett said the last three months have brought some rain to the dry soils, but he’s still worried about the lack of subsoil moisture he’s found.
After the ground freezes, precipitation doesn’t help much since it’s not soaked up into the soil. Furthermore, snow barely helps the soil anyway since it takes 1 foot of snow to equal 1 inch of water. Last year’s winter was abnormally warm, so the soil did benefit from December rains because it was not yet frozen.