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MDA ready for 'surprises' on corn, soybean crop tour

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This year may not be as damaging for US growers as 2012, when drought sent corn yields to a 17-year low.

But that does not make it any less interesting, says Kyle Tapley, agricultural meteorologist for weather service MDA.

It has presented farmers with an unusually wet spring, the wettest on record in Iowa, which they met with the best ever week's corn sowing progress, during a break in the clouds in mid-May, reducing seeding delays which, at one point, were the most severe since at least the 1980s.

While conditions since have been broadly benign - easing fears over the threat from a delayed sowing season meaning peak pollination during the often unduly hot late-July period - it is unclear yet how much of a setback late plantings have been.

An MDA crop tour starting on Monday, August 5 through the major Midwest corn and soybean growing states aims to show exactly what the crop looks like yielding.

Yield variation

Already, estimates for yield potential are spread wide.

Broker Allendale last week, flagging a lack of soil moisture in the western Corn Belt, said that historical data suggest that the national corn yield could fall "below 150 bushels per acre".

However, another commentator within hours pegged the yield at 159.5 bushels per acre, meaning potentially an extra 900m bushels of corn or so, assuming US Department of Agriculture area estimates are correct.

That's a big difference in pricing terms being, on current USDA forecasts, the gap between whether US stocks end 2013-14 at an ample 2.2bn bushels, or a relatively snug 1.3bn bushels.

'Potential for surprise'

Indeed, Mr Tapley said that this year's tour "has greater potential for surprise" than in 2012, when the question was not whether US crops had been hurt by drought, but how much.

"This year, because of the late plantings, there is the potential for results to come in very different to the way anyone is expecting," he said.

"While we have not had the heat this year, we have had some dry weather across portions of the western Corn Belt.

"You would expect to see crops look strong in the eastern Corn Belt and get worse as you move into the west."

That is the picture given by initial sounding by the likes of Macquarie, which has released a yield estimate based on a survey of growers and crop insurance agents.

"But whether that is true on the ground, and how much by, we will find out."

Tour data

The tour will be the first of the season based on actual crop readings, which become of far greater accuracy once corn has started growing ears, as it will have done in the Midwest by early August.

Indeed, last year - when the MDA tour occurred two weeks earlier thanks to earlier crop development – the event pegged the yield at 118 bushels per acre, not far from the final USDA estimate of 123.4 bushels per acre.

At the time of the tour, the USDA was using a figure of 146.0 bushels per acre.

The readings are undertaken by agronomists and bank and industry analysts stopping every 20 miles or so between western Indiana and eastern Nebraska, taking in Illinois, Iowa and South Dakota.

Reports will be released every day of the five-day tour, to include not just a written report and average yield number, but a spreadsheet recording all the tour samples and their exact locations, plus photographs of the samples. readers can sign up for MDA reports with a $100 discount by clicking here. Use the code "AGRIMON" when signing up.


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