The farm economy depends on the corn harvest

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) predicts that Illinois farmers will harvest an average of 198 bushels per acre (BPA) of corn in 2023, which is 16 bushels per acre below USDA’s final harvest estimate for 2022. Yields per acre for corn in Illinois will be very low after 2020. The yield loss comes at a very bad time for farmers: Low prices for corn, low export demand, high interest rates and big increases in fertilizer prices have many analysts worried that this year’s crop will reduce farm profits and incomes, leaving some small producers in dire financial straits.

However, field researchers with Bloomington-based agricultural cooperative GROWMARK see a different outcome: Illinois farmers will harvest 213 bu./acre this fall, according to data collected from 282 field location samples. This would put the 2023 state corn yield on par with the 214 BPA farmers harvested in 2022.

According to the USDA, the impact of lower corn yields on rural economies will be significant. In addition to increasing the number of farm bankruptcies, consumers can feel the effects through higher food prices resulting from higher demand for corn-based products, including animal feed used by the livestock industry. Combined with other market factors that will put downward pressure on 2023 U.S. corn prices, lower yields could be a recipe for disaster for many agricultural operations. In this scenario, the amount of bushes per acre harvested by farmers becomes even more important.

Agronomists: Col people tell stories

To find out how much of a difference an additional 15 BPA corn can make to a producer’s bottom line, we reached out to GROWMARK Field Sales Agronomist Tracy Hearman for answers.

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“In the 2023 cropping season, this crop will have a slightly tighter margin for most farms due to higher input costs and lower grain prices. When you look at a 10 or 15 ppb difference in today’s crop price for corn ($4.43 per bushel based on current delivery prices at press time, according to Danvers Farmers Elevator at press time), you’re talking about a $60, $70. or a difference of $80 per acre. „It could be the difference between making money or not for a farm this year,” Heuerman said.

Field data collected by FS for their predictions, including estimated yield and number of plots sampled, was uploaded to their FS Agronomy Yield Analyzer application. The tool clusters map points aggregated by a specific geographic region to calculate estimated yields. Data is constantly changing as agronomists input new information.

„The data that went into our yield program was entered by our FS crop specialists,” said Heyerman. „We basically look for two pieces of information to go into our program. One is the number of rows (kernels) per ear; the other is the length of the kernels. We also look at ear population, (but) the biggest difference in our program compared to the USDA is probably the number of kernels per bushel.

Heuerman feels the USDA is underestimating kernel size and weight for Illinois corn based on GROWMARK’s direct field observations, leading to inconsistencies in yield predictions.

He said their studies confirm that drought in June and subsequent dry spells caused less damage to kernels than initially feared, especially in central Illinois.

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„I’m hearing that farmers are very happy with their yields, which are a little higher than they expected,” Heuermann said. „The Decatur area has a (PPA) rating of 221, and when you get to Peoria it’s 233. In the Champaign area we’re seeing 220s and 210s.”

If GROWMARK’s 2023 corn yield projections hold true, it would be 224.5 bpa in Peoria County, 229.9 bpa in Tazewell County, 232.3 bpa in McLean County and W.

What others are saying

In addition to USDA and GROWMARK’s corn yield projections, Pro Farmer’s annual field trip found that Illinois farmers should harvest 190.71 bpa based on a yield of 90,000 seeds per bushel. This is compared to projections provided by the Danvers Farmers Elevator (DFE) using data collected from an August field tour of 125 corn plots in Woodford, Tazewell and McLean counties.

And based on a distribution of 90,000 seeds per bushel, DFE’s study determined that farmers would see an average yield of 197.83 ppb. However, based on the average test weight of the tour, DFE’s estimate can be adjusted above 225 bpa assuming a yield of 79,000 seeds per acre.

A tractor pulling two grain carts pulls away from the Eureka Grainland Elevator scale house on Tuesday, Oct. 3.

„It was a little variable from field to field, but we were a little bit ahead of the kernel fill. It was really across the board,” said Joe Daniels, general manager of DFE, which has elevators in Danvers, Mackinaw, Congerville and Deer Creek. „During our crop tour I think most of the ground we deal with will yield better than the assumptions made. I wouldn’t be shocked to see 225 to 230 (area yields), but certainly more than that (other area yields) to carry that average.

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„I think it’s possible at this point, and given the commodity prices right now, it’s something farmers really need.”

According to Daniels, corn for grain coming into DFE’s elevators appears to be in good shape so far. „Good, clean corn and we haven’t seen any fungal problems,” he said. „So far, guys feel good about what’s going on.”

Kernel counts are expected to be higher in 2023 than they were in 2022, according to the University of Illinois Department of Crop Science. „The number of ears this year may be slightly lower than last year, but if the kernels are able to fill at least normal weight, some increase in the statewide yield is possible,” said Emerson Nafziger and Giovani Preza Fontes in an article published by the U. of I’s Bulletin, when the 2023 corn crop season ends.

„As the crop matures, it is easier to estimate the final kernel weight. Under more favorable conditions during grain filling, the kernels may be larger than normal, and a bushel may contain 75,000 kernels or less. Conversely, a bushel may contain 90 or 95 thousand kernels in a drought year. Maybe,” the U of I researchers explained.

Monitoring corn harvest expectations

Farmers can visit GROWMARK-FS’s Agronomy Yield Analyzer app working in a web browser.

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