After logging 3,400 miles of windshield time through the heart of America’s cropland from September 14 to 18, I came away with this finding — this could be a banner crop year. For the vast majority of the trip, corn and soybean fields looked like Michelangelo had set them up for a painting session. With the fall harvest just getting started, we will know the validity of that statement in short order.
To be fair, there were small pockets of late season dryness and early drought witnessed in parts of Indiana and Illinois. Then there was Des Moines, Iowa, and the surrounding area that was devastated by the derecho storm in mid-August. To be candid, the remaining corn crop there lay in ruin as if the “Big Bad Wolf” — in the children’s fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood — had huffed and puffed and blew all the corn down.
Record corn and soybean yields?
The road trip to gather material for upcoming print and online editions took me from Wisconsin to western Minnesota. From there, I traversed to Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, through the Texas Panhandle, and on to the cusp of Clovis, N.M. The return trip back sent me across the country straight to Ohio . . . with two swings through Indiana and Illinois before I returned to Wisconsin. The swaths through the Hoosier State and the Land of Lincoln took me through southern and northern sections of both states.
My take away?
USDA forecasters are right, pegging the projected corn yield at 178.5 bushels per acre and soybeans at 51.9 bushels per acre as published in the September 11, 2020, edition of Crop Production. Those estimates were down slightly from USDA’s August forecast of 181.8 bushels for corn and 53.3 bushels for soybeans. Based on my observation, the August numbers could be closer to the final harvest.
Candid comments from farmers
When it comes to dairy cows, the fall harvest and corn silage are synonymous. From that standpoint, many a bunker already had been covered. In other instances, forage harvesters still were humming from sunup to sundown and beyond. Folks may have been putting in long days, but those long days included smiles . . . especially when reflecting upon the same time last year.
Midwest and Northeast farmers reported a far easier corn silage harvest that was well ahead of last year’s “mudfest,” where tow straps and lead tractors helped guide sliding forage harvesters through muddy fields. As that took place, skid steer operators worked nonstop to remove mud from country roadways.
One prominent custom operator in Wisconsin reported he was three days from wrapping up the harvest as of September 22. Last year, his team struggled throughout October to slew corn silage from waterlogged fields.
An employee for another custom operator brought a tow strap out the Tuesday after Labor Day as corn silage harvest was about to begin.
“What’s that for?” asked the operation manager.
“After last year, I thought we always opened up corn silage fields with a tow strap and tractor assist,” said the longtime employee who couldn’t hold a straight face for long. Both got a chuckle and neither wanted to relive that harvest ever again.
During the 3,400-mile journey, I made many phone calls to dairy farmers. In Michigan, one dairy woman offered that the bunker was covered and that the farm had decided to take a fifth cutting of alfalfa given the great harvest conditions.
To be fair, everything wasn’t sunshine and rainbows. Those throughout Pennsylvania, New York, and the New England states reportedly saw lower corn silage yields due to drier weather.
As for me, the soybeans came off on September 22 on our family farm with a personal farm record of 49.8 bushels per acre. That may not sound impressive to many . . . however, that farm is located in northeast Wisconsin, and its field features just 2 feet of soil before hitting limestone ledge rock. I’ll take 49.8 bushels and run to the mill with those soybeans planted on May 2.
With its later-planted corn, the corn silage harvest for the Hoard’s Dairyman Farm is right around the corner.