By Tim Alexander for Chronicle Media

Sweet corn lovers young and old gathered by the thousands in Normal last weekend for the Sweet Corn and Blues Fest. (Tim Alexander photo)

This week we have news for farmers and rural dwellers impacting corn prices, crop development, harvest weather conditions, and more. Please read on …

Economist questions USDA projections

URBANA — Once again, farmers and analysts are questioning the methodology the government uses when issuing projections on crop yields. The USDA-National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) August Production Report projected the overall U.S. corn yield at 169.5 bu./acre. That estimate reflected no change over NASS’ July projection, prompting University of Illinois agricultural economist Todd Hubbs to question the forecast. 

“August weather conditions do not appear to deviate enough from normal to adjust corn yield expectations,” Hubbs conceded, “However, recent crop tours in Illinois provided some support for the notion that the current crop does not meet the current yield forecast expectations provided by the USDA.”

Meanwhile, Pro Farmer is estimating the total Midwest corn yield at 167.1 bu./acre — but Illinois’ 2017 corn yield at a swarthy 181.7 bu./acre. Pro Farmer’s tour results, issued August 25, projected corn yields in Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota. The estimates are based on assumptions for “normal” weather through September. Other, more localized corn surveys are projecting yields in parts of Illinois down by as many as 30-plus bushels per acre from 2016’s harvest.

The only question remaining for farmers, Hubbs wrote last week in a U of I Department of ACES essay, is whether the corn production forecast will change enough to result in higher prices than those currently reflected in the market. He also noted that historical data suggests the yield forecast will change in future USDA Crop Production reports.

“Since the August forecast came in higher than expected this year, many observers think that subsequent forecasts will be lower,” according to Hubbs. “Using data from 1990 to 2016, the change in yield forecast from August to September declined in 14 of those years.”

Survey shows soybeans ‘stumbling’ in Illinois

PEORIA — Crop tour scouts on Pro Farmer’s annual crop survey are reporting that farmers may be surprised and disappointed with their soybean harvest this year. According to Pro Farmer’s Anna-Lisa Laca, Midwest Crop Tour scouts noted a pod count in Illinois District 4 that was 37 percent lower than in 2016. However, some farmers whose fields were included on the tour were not convinced their 2017 soybean harvest would be a wash.

“I’ve had some fields that had more rain last night than they’ve had all summer,” Dennis Wentworth, a McLean County farmer, told Laca after a much-needed storm deposited over an inch of rain on central Illinois farm fields east of the Illinois River last week. A survey scout with United Prairie agreed that rains could take the soybean harvest back to the same level as last year. But according to Pete Meyer of PIRA Energy, pods that should be present on the underside of soybean plants “just aren’t there,” Laca reported.

Pro Farmer has projected Illinois’ 2017 soybean harvest at 55.5 bushels per acre, citing lagging maturity and the need for more rain and sunshine.

Report: Cool weather for harvest stretch

URBANA — August’s cooler temperatures (two degrees below normal compared to the 1981-2010 Illinois average) are likely to continue for a while, according to Illinois State Meteorologist Jim Angel. “Cooler temperatures in late summer can slow down crop development, which is usually more of a concern in northern Illinois than southern Illinois,” Angel noted in his August 21 weather blog.

Specific impacts from cooler late summer temperatures also include reduced stress on livestock (less stress, more weight gain, more milk production), as well as crops, pastures and lawns, Angel pointed out. Though too many colder days and nights can negatively affect crops, the effects have yet to register much on USDA-National Agricultural Statistic Service crop surveys.

NASS’ most recent Crop Progress report shows 91 percent of Illinois corn in the doughing stage, compared to the 2012-16 average of 87 percent. Corn dented is at 41 percent in Illinois (46 average). Corn condition in Illinois is rated 32 percent fair, 42 percent good and 12 percent excellent.

The Aug. 21 report found soybeans setting pods in Illinois was at 92 percent, compared to 88 percent last year. Soybean condition was rated 28 percent fair, 52 percent good and 8 percent excellent. Pasture and range condition was 43 percent fair, 35 percent good and 4 percent excellent.

Weatherwise, Illinois’ average temperature for the week ending Aug. 20 was 74.2 degrees, up 0.2 degrees from normal, while precipitation was measured at an average 0.45 inches, a departure of 0.41 from normal, according to the NASS report. Farmers can track the impact of cooler weather on corn at the Midwest Regional Climate Center website: visit www.mrcc.isws.illinois.edu/U2U/gdd/.

Downy mildew hits pumpkin patches

URBANA — Downy mildew on pumpkins was detected by University of Illinois pumpkin expert Mohammad Babadoost in a field located in Kankakee County — and he is warning that the disease could spread quickly to other cucurbits — that is to say, pumpkins and such.

“I suggest the following fungicides for control of cucurbit downy mildew in Illinois: mandipropamid (Revus, FRAC: 40) plus chlorothalonil (Bravo Weather Stik, FRAC: M), alternated with oxathiapiprolin plus chlorothalonil (Orondis Opti, FRAC: U15+M) or cyazofamid (Ranman, FRAC: 21) plus chlorothalonil (Bravo Weather Stick) or fluazinam (Omega, FRAC: 29)”, he says.

For more information and photos, visit www.go.illinois.edu/downy_mildew. (U of I Dept. of ACES)

Illinois Farm Fact:

Local growers under contract with Del Monte in Mendota delivered 11 tons of sweet corn to the Normal Sweet Corn and Blues Festival on Saturday, August 26.