Observations from the car window
Earlier this week, I drove the area between Milwaukee and my home. It is always risky to draw conclusions from a superficial observation in a limited area. At least it gave me the opportunity to see if what I heard from the media coincided with what was going on in the field.
People are comparing this year's problems to 1993. My recollection of 1993 is that the worst of the problems came later in the summer. In 1993, I got my crop planted before the deluge reached the peak. The rain continued through most of the summer. In June, grain prices dropped most of the month because the effects of the wet weather had not hit the grain trade yet.
My observations this week are that the worst of the weather damage is probably past. There is no question that grain production will be reduced because of the excess rainfall in key areas. Whether current prices have adequately compensated for the change in fundamental is the question that marketers must judge.
Crops looked pretty good between my place and Adair, Iowa. Beginning at Adair, there were a lot of spots where the crops were yellow and springs were running in the fields. Soils there do not drain as well as ours do, so too much rain shows up more graphically.
As we approached Des Moines, the first Raccoon River we crossed was almost normal height. The second one just a mile or two further east was far over its banks. Obviously those two rivers with the same name originated from two different areas. The one further east drained an area that had far more excess rain than the one further west.
From Ames to Dubuque, there were large areas of poorly drained soils where the crops were flooded out. Crops that were still standing had obviously been planted late because they were very small. From Waterloo to the Mississippi even the fields, where most of the crops were still standing, were very yellow. Apparently the moisture took the nitrogen out of reach of the roots or plants were oxygen starved.
Crops looked better in western Wisconsin. When we got to I-94 between Madison and our destination, however, we experience some places where flood waters were only a foot below the level of the highway. Rumor said that the highway was closed in some westbound lanes, but we did not see anyplace where that was true.
Other years when weather caused crop problems have led me to make incorrect conclusions about the size of the upcoming crop. Last year, I drove through Illinois in June when the crop was suffering from drought. It was easy to assume that production was going to be reduced. Shortly after that, rains began. No problem!
In 2004, I did a meeting in Marshalltown, Iowa in July. Fields there had big spots where the crops had been drowned out by earlier rains. It appeared to me that production would be down. However, weather the rest of the summer was good enough that the crops produced record yields. So much for the accuracy of my judgment calls!