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Variability rules 2012 corn, soybean crops

Jeff Caldwell 10/15/2012 @ 10:58am Agricultural content creator and marketer.

The 2012 fall harvest in the Corn Belt has revealed a few major key themes that have and will continue to influence both the production and marketing of this year's crop.

The 2012 crop year will go down in the books as one of major yield variability, moisture worries, and marketing uncertainties. All these factors march to the beat of the drought that stomped through the U.S. and continues to cause rainfall anxieties even into next year.

"We're running on empty, moisture-wise. I'm concerned we're not going to get that replenished," says Mike Missman, who farms near Woden in north-central Iowa.

That shortfall has resulted in "the most variable crop that I've seen so far in my farming career," says Craig Petersen, who raises corn and soybeans near Sumner in Bremer County, Iowa. He says he's seen yields ranging between 25 and 200 bushels an acre across some of his fields. Other farmers say they've seen their yield monitors hit zero and as high as 335 bushels an acre in the same pass through the field this fall.

"We've seen everything from 25-bushel corn on 'no-rain' areas to fields running between 180 and 200 bushels an acre," Petersen says.

What's behind the wide yield window? Some of the triple-digit ranges have come in areas where farmers have been just as strapped for rainfall. It shows the influence of a few key variables: Soil type, hybrid selection, and the timing of what little rain that did fall.

"We got really lucky in that the heat broke before pollination. We pollinated in temperatures that were decent," says Paul Schley, who farms near Le Center in southern Minnesota. "Since mid-April, we've had 3.5 inches of rain. We finished combining last week, and if we'd been harvesting Grandpa's hybrids, we'd have nothing.

"From the standpoint of the moisture we've had, I'm pleased."

Dave Kirchhoff's farm near Tripoli, Iowa, has soils with a corn suitability rating (CSR) in the mid- to high-80s with around 2 feet of topsoil. And, he invests in pattern tiling in most of his fields. This year, those conditions helped him take better advantage of the rain that fell.

"Corn yields are very variable. It just depends on your soil types. On good, solid ground - better than expected. But on poorer ground, they really drop off fast. We didn't get rains in July. Our first rain was on August 9, and that gave us a little kernel depth and test weight, but still, yields are a little off altogether," Kirchhoff says. "But if you've got a good hearty soil and good drainage, it usually brings in some pretty good yields on average overall."

The clock is ticking, though, and this fall's moisture anxiety could wind up a lot more serious by next spring, at least on Kirchhoff's farm.

"In our area we're 17 to 20 inches off normal, and we need to get some of that made up before the ground freezes because once the ground freezes up, you might as well wait until spring to get it," he says.

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