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Farmers skeptical of USDA crop progress

Jeff Caldwell 08/15/2011 @ 3:39pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

Corn and soybean conditions didn't change over the last week, according to Monday's USDA-NASS weekly Crop Progress report. But, if you ask farmers around the Corn Belt, the numbers may not paint the clearest picture of how the crops are faring, especially the corn crop.

As of Sunday, 60% of the corn crop is in good-to-excellent condition. The "good" category gained 1% while corn rated "excellent" slipped 1%. Overall, 25% of the crop is in fair shape, while the remaining 15% is rated very poor to poor. Soybean conditions are rated 61% good-to-excellent, also unchanged from last week.

Those numbers look good on paper, but are far from what's really in the field, some farmers say. In a recent Agriculture.com poll, 34% of farmers say they've lost at least 30 bushels/acre in yield potential from hot, dry weather conditions earlier this summer. Many say they're finding low kernel counts and underdeveloped kernels upon walking into fields that look good from a distance.

"If you're just looking along the road, fields look great, but if you dig deeper, not so much," says Hamilton County, Indiana, farmer George Kakasuleff.

Though the corn crop's hurting worse, the soybeans are in need of rain too, especially with this month being the most critical one for bean development.

"Now that the heat has broken, farmers are now looking for some precipitation. Much of the state is dry, and crop and pastures could use some rain," Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey said Monday afternoon. "August is a critical time for soybean development and timely rains would be very beneficial."

But, the rain those crops desperately need may not come for a while, at least in some major corn- and soybean-growing areas. Craig Solberg of Freese-Notis Weather, Inc., says his data shows the rainfall departure from normal is growing throughout Iowa and Illinois, unlike the areas to the east and west.

"Our data shows that rain has been under 25% of normal since June 28 for Indianapolis, Champaign, Decatur, Springfield, and Quincy; and under 40% of normal at Mason City, Des Moines, Ottumwa, and Burlington. A big rain is not in the forecast for those areas for the next week or longer," Solberg said Monday. "The best rains this week will be to the west in Nebraska and Kansas, areas that have been doing pretty good on rainfall as of late. It is a situation that means we are not filling corn ears or soybean pods as well as we could be, but at least the dryness as of late has not been accompanied by heat."

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