By Mike McGinnis

DTN Commodities Editor

DES MOINES, IA (DTN)--With a number of private sources estimating lower yields for the 2002 corn crop and continued hot and dry forecasts, there isn't a lot of talk about the "best" crops in the Corn Belt.

However, finding the "best" corn crop may be as easy as following the rainfall amounts.

For much of June and July, rainfall maps indicate most of the showers were from Interstate 35 in Minnesota and Iowa, east.

"Let's put it this way, said Rich Balvanz, of AMS Ag Management Services in Monticello, Iowa, "cornfields in parts of eastern Iowa averaged 200 bushels per acre last year, and farmers are comparing this year's crop to last year's levels."

Although the central and eastern Iowa crop was planted a little wet, it has received favorable rains at a time when much of the Corn Belt stayed dry.

Elwynn Taylor, Iowa State University agronomist, told DTN he sees nothing but excellent cornfields from Ames, IA, east to the Illinois border.

"Thursday, I drove from central Iowa to Illinois and it was hard to find a crop that didn't look great," said Taylor. "Keep in mind six inches of rain has fallen in the last two weeks in that area."

The corn yield estimates may be lower in Minnesota but they still are considerably better than much of the Corn Belt.

"We are going to have some 200 bushel per acre fields, but we will have some 100 bushels per acre fields as well," said Darren Fritz,

Interstate Mills, in Owatonna, MN.

Fritz said the area farmers tell him the low spots look good but the crops on the hills need help.

"We might have some of the best corn in the Midwest but our average yields are expected to be around 150 bushels per acre, lower than last year's 160 bushels per acre," Fritz said.

At the same time, he agreed it's a pretty good growing season so far.

"Everything got planted on time and it seems that when we needed the rain it's come," Fritz said.

Even though Iowa and Minnesota seem to be on track for above average crop years, that may not be good enough to rescue the nation's production.

"If Iowa and Illinois have good years that means the nation's crop production would be good, considering Illinois is the No. 2 corn producing state while Minnesota is No. 5," he said.

Statistics indicate 50% of the nation's corn is produced in the western Corn Belt while 35% is produced in the eastern Corn Belt, and 15% in other areas.

Balvanz said, "Iowa, Minnesota, and South Dakota would be over half of the western corn belt crop, if you got a good crop there that goes a long way in offsetting the poor crop in the eastern corn belt."

In addition, if Iowa and Minnesota have an exceptional corn crop combined with an average Nebraska corn crop, "That would go a long way in claims of a good crop year."

But reports coming out of Nebraska indicate less than average yields. A Gage County, NE, Extension agent said, "Even if we had normal rain from here on, then my county would harvest 35 bushel per acre dryland corn, and 25 bushel soybeans," OsterDowJones reports.

Another thing to consider is the poor crop in western Iowa. Field tests in southwest Iowa estimate corn yields of only five to 10 bushels per acre, that being in fields hurting from severe drought. Northwest Iowa field specialists are reporting dryness, however not as severe as other parts of the state.

There is also a question of whether the Eastern Corn Belt (ECB) is as bad off as some have reported.

Rain did bring some relief to the ECB crops last night. However, Bryce Anderson, DTN meteorologist said, "Rainfall in the true corn/soybean growing areas of the Midwest amounted to no more than .15 inch in northern IL/IN/south WI. There was an isolated area of northern WI which had over two inches rain, but it was well away from crop country."

Balvanz says the ECB crop remains the big mystery. "To me I'm interested to see if the losses in the ECB are as great as being talked about."

Meanwhile, areas of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois where heavy rain delayed spring planting have now fallen into a drought, according to a new Drought Monitor report issued Aug. 1 by USDA.

Elwynn Taylor said the focus of this year's crop needs to be more on soil moisture, soil temperatures and silking dates and less on crop ratings.

"In the past five years, the highest yielding corn crop had the highest crop progress ratings. However, the second highest yielding crop had the lowest crop ratings," said Taylor.

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