Home Across the Fence USDA Crop Report: How Accurate is It?

USDA Crop Report: How Accurate is It?

On November 9th, the U-S Department of Agriculture released it’s monthly crop report, projecting the total amount of grain and oilseeds that will be produced by our nation’s farmers.  The official numbers, indicated by government analyists, expect to see corn production at 12.3 billion bushels, which is down one percent from the October estimate, and down one percent from the 2010 prediction.  The USDA believes Iowa will have an increase of yield over last year and over last month. Their estimates show Iowa corn growers to produce 2.334 billion bushels of corn for 2011, whereas last year’s estimate was pegged at 2.153 billion bushels of corn. In 2010, Iowa farmers were able to have a state-wide corn yield average of 165 bushels per acre.  In October of this year, the USDA predicted Iowa farmers to average 169 bushels per acre, and for their November estimate, the government predictors pick Iowa to average 171 bushels per acre.

 I am not an expert at determining the amount of corn that will be produced by Iowa corn growers.  However, I do believe the U.S. Department of Agriculture is off on their estimates, and may be reflected as such during the final crop estimates that are released in January.  Here are my reasons for making such a claim.  Northwest Iowa, particularly in Plymouth, Sioux, O’Brien and Clay Counties, usually have been able to harvest on average nearly 200 bushels of corn, or more, year after year.  Our good fertile soils, improved genetics, and abundant rainfall usually insures this type of yield.  However, this year when I visited with farmers, grain elevator operators, and extension agronomists throughout northwest Iowa I heard the same comments. “Soybeans performed better than expected, but corn was a bit of a disappointment.”  Northwest Iowa was fortunate to have a large supply of moisture in our subsoils and topsoils and this certainly helped sustain our corn production, particularly in mid-July when our temperatures passed the triple-digit mark.  However, most farmers agree during that stretch of two weeks in mid-July when the temperatures were above 100 degrees and the corn was in the critical pollination and silking stage, some stress had occurred to our corn fields.  The corn sucked up every last bit of subsoil moisture, but unfortunately, we did not receive much rainfall in July and August to help replenish the used moisture.

I have not heard of many farmers in the northwest Iowa growing region that were able to surpass the 200 bushel mark for corn yields this year.  Maybe they did on one field, or in a particular area of a field.  But when you average the entire farm or operation, most of the farmers I spoke to say they had an average corn yield of around 170 bushels per acre. 

In order for the entire state to average a yield of 171 bushels per acre, it would mean that the other regions of the state must have had a whopper of a year with corn yields.  I did hear that southeast Iowa, a region that normally has lower yields, had a good year with higher corn yields.  However, I also know that the soil conditions and annual rainfall for southeast Iowa do not match those typically found in northwest Iowa.

 Another reason, why I believe the USDA is wrong with its prediction is the Missouri River flooding.  This past crop year, thousands of acres along the Missouri River were lost due to the flooding that lasted throughout the growing months.  I am not speaking of just Iowa, but when you add up the lost acres in other states including South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, and Kansas, you have to ask yourself, how is it the USDA believes we will see an increase in yields? 

When the January crop report is issued, after the nation’s harvest is completed and the analyists have had the opportunity to double check their figures with the amount of grain that is stored or has been sold, I believe we will see another reduction for the nation’s corn production.  In Iowa especially, I think the USDA will realize the state did not produce as much corn as earlier thought.  My belief is the original October estimate of 169 bushels per acre may be more accurate than the November estimate.  Actually, I wouldn’t be all that surprised if the final number was slightly lower than the October estimate.   Iowa will still be able to hold on to its number one ranking for being the top corn producer in the nation, but everyone will come to the conclusion that 2011 was a good year for corn production, but not a bin-busting great year.