By James Barnett

and Jeff Wilson


OWATONNA, MN (B)--After crop scouts logged thousands of miles, hundreds of fields and millions of bugs on windscreens, the ProFarmer Midwest crop tour resulted in corn and soybean production and yield estimates slightly below the U.S. Department of Agriculture Aug. 11 report. The corn crop was seen at 10.18 to 10.30 billion bushels versus USDA's 10.369 billion. Soybean production was pegged at 2.83 to 2.92 billion bushels, shy of USDA's 2.989 billion estimate.

"There is a big corn and soybean crop in the Midwest," said ProFarmer editor Chip Flory.

"However, after completing this year's Midwest crop tour, evaluating the data and factoring in potential yield changes in states outside of the tour area, we are confident that USDA's final production estimates will be down slightly from its August forecasts."

Flory said the biggest adjustment would come in Nebraska. ProFarmer's corn yield estimate for Nebraska was 132 bushels per acre, compared with USDA's 136 bushel estimate.

"After 10 days of hot, dry and windy conditions, we anticipate Nebraska as well as South Dakota will experience a finish similar to that seen in 1995 in Iowa," Flory said.

"That year, corn yield potential in Iowa looked good until the last week of August, when the heat and the dry winds hit, and yield potential deteriorated quickly," Flory recalled.

By contrast, "the tour data says we should expect yield increases in the same states USDA said we should see a big increase: Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. The data, however, says the increase will not be as great as indicated by USDA in August."

ProFarmer sees the potential for soybean yields to dip in several areas compared with USDA's August forecast.

Dry conditions and some late planting should affect yields in northern Indiana and northern Ohio, while stress from a lack of rain over the past few weeks should cut yields in Nebraska and South Dakota.

By contrast, Illinois and Minnesota corps were considered in generally good condition, although patches of south-central Minnesota were found to have been too wet.

Alan Karkosh, ProFarmer tour consultant, said that rather than a large crop in any individual state, "we see a variety of conditions dropping yields below USDA's estimate."

Flory noted that it was extremely difficult for the tour to peg soybean yields because of two factors the crop tour does not measure: the number of soybeans per pod and the size of those beans.

"Weather can swing soybean yields dramatically in late August and September," Flory said.

"We have a history of slightly underestimating corn production and overstating the soybean crop relative to the final USDA data in the last three years," Flory noted.

For example, the mid-point of the ProFarmer crop production estimate in 1999 was 120 million bushels below the final USDA corn crop estimate. In 1998, the mid-point estimate was 110 million bushels below, although in 1997 the midpoint estimate was actually above the USDA final estimate by 82 million bushels.

Flory remains confident in his firm's corn crop forecast. Over the past three years, the ProFarmer midpoint of corn production forecasts missed USDA's final estimate by an average of 104 million bushels.

"That is roughly, like I said, we feel good about that history," he said.

In 1999, the ProFarmer corn crop estimate was 9.27 billion to 9.39 billion bushels. USDA's September forecast--the first made after the ProFarmer tour--was 9.381 billion bushels, and the final crop was 9.437 billion.

ProFarmer's soybean crop estimate in 1999 was 2.72 billion to 2.81 billion bushels, compared with the USDA September forecast of 2.778 billion and the final, smaller crop of 2.643 billion.

The ProFarmer team of analysts emphasized that their soybean crop estimates were merely an attempt to give a direction of where USDA may go with its final soybean crop size.

"Unfortunately, we have got a three-year history that shows we normally overestimate the soybean crop's potential," Flory noted.

Thus, the mid-point of the 1999 soybean crop forecast was 122 million bushels above the final USDA crop. In 1998, ProFarmer's midpoint was 114 million bushels under the final USDA forecast. In 1997, the ProFarmer midpoint was 16 million bushels above the final USDA estimate.

"We have been working very hard to improve our analysis of the crop based on prior tour data," he said. "This year we have added some new wrinkles to our analysis of the pod counts and hope to be right in line with the final USDA forecast."

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