R.F.D. NEWS & VIEWS: Crop tours reveal less corn than USDA estimate

By Tim Alexander for Chronicle Media


This photo of Lake Decatur and surrounding watershed was provided by the Illinois State Water Survey at U of I.

Independent crop tours across the Midwest are yielding harvest estimates, with early results coming in lower than USDA estimates. Also in this week’s report: more data is available on consumer grocery shopping trends pre-and-post-pandemic, and we have some additional data from the August USDA cropland values report. Please read on …


Crop tours reveal less corn than USDA estimate

DEER CREEK — The USDA is projecting Illinois’ corn crop will yield 207 bushels per acre in 2020, which would be a near-record haul. However, some independent yield estimates are coming in below USDA expectations.

Bell Enterprises, which counts farmers in Woodford, Tazewell and McLean counties among its customers, is among those who are at odds with the USDA estimate. Their 106 scorecards recorded an average yield of 192.57 bushels per acre (raw yield at 90,000 seeds per acre) with an adjusted yield of 211.36 bu./acre (82,000 seeds). This final adjusted yield comes in 3 bu./acre below the 2019 actual yield of 214.71 bu./acre, for a 1 percent decrease. The adjusted yield will be 5.4 percent less than the five-year actual yield of 223.32 bu./acre.

In addition, Bell found that the kernel count per ear, at 550 kernels, is five below the five-year average of 554 kernels per ear due to average smaller ear size. “Ninety-two percent of the tour participants concluded that the crop would not be mature (black layer) by Sept. 1,” observed Kim Craig, grain merchandiser for Bell, which is headquartered in Deer Creek (Woodford County), Illinois. Ninety-two percent of participants also agreed that additional rains would add yield to the crop.

Corn yield in Illinois will average just 189.4 bu./acre in 2020, according to results from last week’s Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour. That estimate, which takes into account the Aug. 10 derecho and recent near-drought conditions, comes in far short of the 207 bu./acre USDA projected for the 2020 Illinois corn yield. In fact, Pro Farmer’s projections came in lower than those of USDA’s Aug. 1 report in every state save South Dakota. Pro Farmer is projecting average corn yields in Indiana at 179.8, Iowa at 177.8 and Ohio at 167.6 bu./acre.


Report: 50 percent of Illinois cropland rented

URBANA — During a webinar last week, University of Illinois agricultural economist Gary W. Schnitkey provided some detailed insight into data provided by recent land values reports from USDA and the Illinois Society of Professional Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers. According to USDA data, 40 percent of the 390 million acres of U.S. farmland is rented. But in cropland-heavy states such as Illinois, the amount of rented acreage is much higher. Illinois cropland is 50 percent rental, while 45 percent of Indiana cropland is farmed on a rental basis. The highest cash rents in Illinois are found, not surprisingly, in the central region.

Most, but not all cropland rent leases are written, and many agreements have shifted from a share rent to a cash rent, Schnitkey reported.

USDA’s 2020 farmland values report, issued in August, showed cash rents, at an average of $222 per acre, holding steady. However, the ISPFMRA found that cash rents actually decreased slightly in Illinois in 2020. This came as somewhat of a surprise to the economist.

“Professionally managed land rent amounts are often higher than typical cash rents,” said Schnitkey. He also noted that ad hoc federal aid payments made to farmers in 2019 and 2020 are helping support current cropland sales and rental values.


Survey: 60 percent trust farmers in pandemic

DES MOINES — The National Pork Board issued an update last week citing a recent survey of U.S. grocery shopping trends and home cooking by consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey, conducted by FMI, found that just 60 percent of consumers say “farmers are on my side” when it comes to helping them stay healthy. The survey also revealed that 31 percent prioritize something comforting when cooking at home during COVID, 58 percent say eating at home with family is important, and 51 percent expect they will be better about not letting food go to waste compared to before the pandemic.

I may be old-fashioned, but I expected all of those numbers to be higher, especially on the first point. When I was growing up, being a farmer was considered a noble and trustworthy profession — but of course, so was journalism.


Decatur watershed project involves farmers

DECATUR — The Illinois Farm Bureau, several county farm bureaus, area farmers and the City of Decatur are collaborating on a long term watershed management initiative that arrives on the heels of a $92 million dredging project completed at Lake Decatur in 2018. The goal: to reduce sediment and nutrient delivery to the 3,090-acre lake and its nearly 70-mile watershed — 80 percent of which consists of cultivated crops.

“To ensure this initiative is a success, we have placed a strong emphasis on early engagement of the agricultural community, and other strategic partners and industry leaders in the watershed,” said Jeff Boekler of Northwestern Consulting, the Springfield-based firm contracted to lead the initiative. “Input from the farming community is actively being sought to identify opportunities and guide future actions. We firmly believe that strong partnerships with area farmers is key to our success.”

Lake Decatur, created in the 1920s, serves as the primary water supply for the Village of Mount Zion, Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Tate & Lyle Ingredients. (Ill. Farm Bureau)


USDA to survey small grain production

SPRINGFIELD — Questionnaires will soon be arriving in small grains growers’ mailboxes asking for details of their 2020 production and supply of wheat, oats, barley and rye. “We will contact more than 2,100 producers in Illinois to accurately measure 2020 acreage, yield and production,” said Mark Schleusener, Illinois State Statistician for USDA-NASS. Producers who wish to participate in the survey may opt to do so online, at agcounts.usda.gov. (USDA news)


Illinois Ag Fact:

Illinois farmers harvested 550,000 acres of wheat in 2019, down 10,000 acres from 2019. (USDA-NASS)