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Tour will tally crops

Jeff Caldwell Updated: 07/22/2012 @ 10:20pm Agricultural content creator and marketer.

Weather experts and crop specialists will be criss-crossing the nation's corn and soybean country this week to see just how much damage Mother Nature's inflicted on this year's crop and what the prognosis is moving forward.

A group led by the weather forecasting firm MDA EarthSat Weather will begin July 23 in the eastern Corn Belt and zig-zag its way to the Nebraska-Iowa border, stopping about every 15-20 miles to pull corn ears and soybean plants to get an idea of how yields might eventually shake out.

Daily coverage from the tour will include an estimation of potential reductions in corn and soybean yields, as well as an assessment of soil conditions and plant disease and pest problems. Agriculture.com editors will document the entire tour and be providing multimedia updates throughout each day.

"With the early planting and hot weather, we should be able to do an early yield estimate for the corn crop," says Kyle Tapley, MDA senior ag meteorologist who's leading the crop tour. "The tour route is designed to hit as many of the largest producing counties as possible. It will also get us a good sampling of some of the areas most hard hit by drought and heat."

The tour will move from Columbus, Ohio, to Indianapolis, Indiana, then Bloomington, Illinois, and Iowa City, Iowa, and northwest to Fort Dodge, Iowa, before winding up in Omaha, Nebraska. The group's path, says MDA EarthSat senior meteorologist Donald Keeney, was built to cover the widest range of crop conditions.

"The route was determined by trying to go through some of the major producing regions between Columbus and Omaha, while strategically placing overnight stops along the way," Keeney says. "We also wanted to plan the route through some of the worst areas in terms of heat and dryness.

"We expect the average yields to vary greatly throughout the tour, but that overall yields to be way down, especially the further west they travel," he adds.

But, it's not just a quick stop-by-stop yield tally. Tour participants will also take stock of specific agronomic conditions, like disease issues and soil moisture, and take them into account of the full yield picture.

"We will be talking about soil moisture and disease/pest problems in our reports, but those will be more qualitative descriptions, so we will just be including general observations of those variables as opposed to any kind of numerical scale," Tapley says.

Want to take part in the crop tour on your own farm? Here's how the MDA crop tour will measure corn yield potential:

  • Enter a corn field, proceeding at least 30 rows deep. Please remember which way you came from!
  • Measure row spacing (will usually be 30 inches).
  • Lay out 30 foot of rope and count the number of plants and number of ears in two rows along the rope.
  • Pull 3 random ears from each row (3rd, 5th, and 8th ears) and bring them back to the car.
  • Measure length of each ear and calculate an average.
  • Count number of kernel rows around for each ear (this will always be an even number!) and calculate an average.
  • A corn yield can then be estimated.
  • (Average ear count X Average Ear Length X Average Kernel Rows) / Row Spacing
  • (Example: Avg. ear count: 50, Avg. Ear Length: 6”, Avg. Kernel Rows: 14, Row Spacing: 30.”)

For soybeans, plants will be judged based on a scale of 1-5 for both development and health, ranging from no blooms present to maturing pods for the former and dead plants to "plentiful pods" for the latter, Tapley says.

"We expect to find significant damage from drought and heat, especially in the corn crop," Tapley says. "I expect yields to be variable, as always, but I also expect to see some fields yielding close to zero in the hardest hit areas."


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