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Biggest U.S. Corn Grower Is Delivering Some Yield Surprises

Isis Almeida and Michael Hirtzer
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Biggest U.S. Corn Grower Is Delivering Some Yield Surprises

(Bloomberg) -- Parts of Iowa are shaping up as one of the few bright spots in an otherwise lackluster corn-growing season in the U.S. Midwest, with some fields in the central western regions of the state even healthier than last year.

That’s according to partial data collected on the third day of the Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour. While official results for the state, the top U.S. corn grower, will be released later Thursday, some early indications are positive.

“I would have told you no way in hell 60 days ago we would have been able to beat last year’s crop,” Jarod Creed, a risk manager at JC Marketing Services who’s also a scout on the crop tour, said, commenting on west central Iowa. “It’s going to beat it, and it’s pretty amazing.”

The results defy record rains that fell in the Midwest this spring, sparking a historically delayed planting season. Because of the deluge and the late plantings, crops in many areas are falling behind last year for yields and plant maturity. But there’s also an east-west divide shaping up in the corn belt, with fields in better shape the further west you move. Iowa stands out as a particular example of this, since results in the state itself look to be splitting along geographic lines.

In three crop districts in western Iowa, corn yields exceeded three-year averages and were higher than last year in two, data collected Tuesday showed. Meanwhile, in eastern Iowa, four stops in Lee and Henry counties showed yields trailing 2018 levels and the three-year average.

Early results Thursday continued to underscore the east-west divide. Corn and soybean crops in east-central Iowa were heading for below-average harvests after farmers were unable to sow crops during the optimal window for planting, scouts found on the fourth and final day of the Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour.

Whether or not Iowa cornfields realize their yield potential depends largely on the weather in the coming weeks. Plenty of sunshine -- temperatures that are warm, but not too hot -- and no early frost are what’s needed.

Meanwhile in parts of Nebraska, corn yields were also ahead of three-year averages, while in Ohio and South Dakota development is behind after the delayed planting. Weather swings have affected areas differently, with the sizes of plants and their kernels and pods varying widely.

In terms of diseases, “this is probably the healthiest corn crop I’ve seen in my seven years” taking part in the tour, Brent Judish, an Iowa farmer, said in reference to crops in his state.

Amid the mixed results from the tour, corn futures in Chicago are heading for a weekly loss. While yields in some stretches are down from last year, conditions don’t appear to be as bad as some had feared, with tour scouts describing crops to be in relatively average shape.

The east-west divide is also being reflected in the soybean crops. Still, pod counts have generally trended lower than last year in most areas.

“Generally, Ohio was the worst and into eastern Indiana, and it gradually got a little bit better as we came across,” Brian Grete, editor of the Pro Farmer newsletter and leader of the eastern half of the crop tour, told the AgriTalk podcast Wednesday. “We’re seeing better pods than what we’ve seen previously, but it’s still not up to standard”

(Adds more details on eastern Iowa in sixth paragraph.)

--With assistance from Dominic Carey.

To contact the reporters on this story: Isis Almeida in Chicago at ialmeida3@bloomberg.net;Michael Hirtzer in Chicago at mhirtzer@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: James Attwood at jattwood3@bloomberg.net, Millie Munshi

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