By Katie Dehlinger
Farm Business Editor
By Emily Unglesbee
DTN Staff Reporter
MT. JULIET, Tenn. and ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- Beneficial planting conditions, favorable temperatures and timely doses of rain could help corn and soybean growers in Nebraska and South Dakota achieve record yields in 2020, according to the first day's findings on the DTN/Progressive Farmer 2020 Digital Yield Tour.
Powered by Gro Intelligence, the tour is an in-depth look at how this year's corn and soybean crop is progressing using Gro's real-time yield maps, which are generated with satellite imagery, rainfall data, temperature maps and other public data.
On Monday, Gro's models for corn show a statewide average of 198.7 bushels per acre (bpa) in Nebraska and 174.4 bpa in South Dakota. USDA will release its first state-by-state yield estimates in Wednesday's Crop Production report.
Gro forecasts soybean yields at 63.2 bpa in Nebraska and 49.2 bpa in South Dakota.
Gro's yield estimates on a county and state level update daily, so the numbers at publication time may be slightly different than that found on the Gro website.
If Gro's estimates come to fruition, corn yields would set records in both states. Nebraska would set a new soybean record, and South Dakota would come very close to its record, 49.5 bpa, which was set in 2016.
"There is no doubt that South Dakota and Nebraska are getting some positive payback after the extremely wet year in 2019 in the form of ample soil moisture," DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson said. "The past six months have trended somewhat drier in the eastern parts of these two states, but that reduced precipitation allowed for excess water to either run off or evaporate. In turn, this made more acreage available for planting, particularly in South Dakota."
The good weather kept on coming with timely rains and favorable temperatures through the summer.
"In fact, much of these two states took rainfall during July of 50% above normal to almost twice the normal amounts. And to go along with the rain, temperatures were mostly normal to maybe a degree or two above normal in most crop areas. This was very favorable for corn pollination and soybean flowering," Anderson said.
The forecast continues to look favorable, with periods of hotter weather from the southwestern U.S. colliding with cooler, northern air "that allows for thunderstorm activity and the introduction of a thermostat effect. That looks like a beneficial formula during the filling phases as we finish out the season."
DTN Lead Analyst Todd Hultman said Monday's estimates are early indications that the U.S. could be on track for record corn and soybean production in 2020, "a prospect that is also brought out by USDA's high crop ratings and has been pressuring prices lower of late. Coming in a year when coronavirus concerns and the trade dispute with China continue to hang over prices, the anticipation of record harvests is keeping potential buyers out of the markets and not offering much help for higher prices."
Gro's estimated statewide average corn yield of 198.65 bpa this year soars above Gro's 2019 statewide estimate of 191 bpa and USDA's final 2019 estimate of 182 bpa. Average county corn yields in Gro's models mostly range from the 180s bpa up into the low-200s bpa.
The Cornhusker State owes these favorable estimates largely to Mother Nature's cooperation, said DTN's Anderson.
Gro's NDVI map, a measure of a region's relative lushness or dryness, tells the tale of a well-watered state. Most of Nebraska shows white coloring, which indicates normal vegetation, or green coloring, which marks above-average vegetative growth.
Nebraska's crop production is always aided by irrigation from the sprawling Ogallala Aquifer, which stretches beneath the state, with its deepest portions underlying the center third. This year, ample rainfall has been an additional boon to the state's dryland counties, Anderson noted.
"It's been a favorable season in large part for dryland crops across the state -- including both the typical rain-fed areas of eastern Nebraska," he noted. "But also, even in irrigation-focused areas, it simply adds to production on pivot corners."
Some of the highest corn yields are expected from south-central Nebraska, where Gro's maps peg Phelps County as the state's highest estimated corn yield, at 221.8 bpa, up from 214 bpa last year. Yields drop in the more arid western third of the state, where the southwestern county of Banner nets the lowest estimated yield of 107.1 bpa.
Where northeastern Nebraska farmer Kenny Reinke farms in Antelope County, he expects an average production year, with good pollination conditions being slightly offset by cloudy late-summer weather that forced some corn ear tipback. Gro's model agrees. It predicts an average corn yield of 205.2 bpa in Antelope County -- the exact same as USDA's five-year average for that county.
Compared to last year's spring and early summer deluges and flooding, Nebraska farmers had much more typical spring and summer conditions, which led to rapid planting and even emergence, Anderson said. "Nebraska soybean planting on May 31, 2020, was 95% compared with 62% on May 31 last year, and emergence was 73% on May 31 this year compared with 34% at the end of May 2019," Anderson noted. "The beneficial start has been followed by generally favorable temperatures and timely doses of rain through the summer."
"It was just so much more of a normal growing season than last year," added Reinke. "For example, last year, we were just started getting soybeans in the first of June; this year, it was the middle of May for our latest planting. That makes a huge difference on soybeans."
For soybeans, Gro's model pegs the statewide average yield at 63.2 bpa, well above Gro's 2019 estimate of 57.3 bpa and USDA's final 2019 estimate of 58.5 bpa.
In Gro's maps, the southern central region of the state, stretching from the Colorado border to just east of Lincoln, holds some of the best beans, with county yields in the mid to high-60s. Phelps County wins the high-yield estimate once again, with Gro models coming in at 69.7 bpa there. Elsewhere in north-central and the eastern third of the state, soybean yields range from the mid-50s into the low-60s, with one lone western county, Cheyenne, dropping to 48.5 bpa.
In Reinke's Antelope County, Gro pegs soybeans close to 62.2 bpa, close to USDA's five-year average of 61 bpa; Reinke agrees his fields could fall near 60 bpa.
Gro Intelligence's 174-bpa corn yield forecast is significantly higher than last year. In 2019, Gro estimated the state's final yield at 153 bpa, while USDA pegged the final tally at 144 bpa. At the county level, Gro's maps show the strongest yields in the state's eastern counties, with averages ranging from 180 bpa in the state's northeast to 207 bpa in Minnehaha County, which Gro forecasts will have the highest yields.
"Corn looks absolutely phenomenal, and I think you can say that about the entire state of South Dakota," said Tregg Cronin, who farms in Potter and Sully counties in central South Dakota. Near his farm, which is in the central part of the state, Gro estimates yields ranging from 120 bpa to 170 bpa. Even some counties in the western part of the state, where very little corn is grown, have yield forecasts of 130 to 150 bpa.
There is some prevented planting along the border with North Dakota, which shows up on Gro's NDVI maps as the dark-brown patches. Gro estimates the state has close to 250,000 acres of prevented planting with most of it in Brown County. North Dakota, which saw corn harvest extend into this spring, had much more prevented planting acreage this year, with Gro estimating unplanted corn and soybean acreage at just above 900,000 acres.
Otherwise, the NDVI map for South Dakota shows well-watered crop conditions in the Missouri River Basin and closer-to-average greenness ratings in the state's east.
"You have a hard time, anywhere in the state, finding a place that hasn't seen timely moisture," Cronin said. "We've had some hot temps, but nothing out of the ordinary for a South Dakota summer. It just seems like it's very difficult to find anybody who's not very, very optimistic on their crop."
Gro estimated corn in Sully County will average 161.8 bpa, which Cronin said would be a large percentage above average. "That'd be a big number for them, but, again, I can't dispute it. If that county pulled it off, that'd be pretty reflective of most of the central third of the state, I'd say. If Sully County ends up that far above, I think there are a lot of counties that are going to do the same."
Gro didn't publish a corn yield estimate for Potter County, where most of Cronin's operation is located.
On soybeans, Gro estimates a statewide average of 49.2 bpa, above last year's estimates from both Gro and USDA. Gro's final estimate of South Dakota soybeans in 2019 was 41.9 bpa, while USDA's was 42.5 bpa. Like corn, the strongest yields are in the state's southern and eastern counties, where yields range from 52 bpa in Davison County to 60 bpa in Moody County. Yield estimates are lowest in South Dakota's northern tier of counties, with average yields falling in the 36-to-38-bpa range.
Gro pegs Potter and Sully counties at 39.1 bpa and 45.6 bpa, respectively. Cronin found that surprising, especially because Sully County didn't have a T-yield for soybeans for crop insurance until just a few years ago. There is more irrigation in Sully County, he said, but if he were to compare dryland beans in both counties, he thinks Potter County can raise a better bean crop.
"Whether it's sunflowers, soybeans or corn, there isn't a bad-looking field unless you screwed it up yourself," Cronin said.
ABOUT THE TOUR
Now in its third year, the DTN/Progressive Farmer 2020 Digital Yield Tour, powered by Gro Intelligence, takes place Aug. 10-14 and provides an in-depth look at how the year's corn and soybean crops are progressing. Each day, we'll feature crop condition and yield information from various states, which include links to the Gro yield prediction maps for those states. Yield summaries are viewable at the county level.
The "tour" starts in the west, with the first day's articles focusing on Nebraska and South Dakota. On Tuesday, Aug. 11, the tour will check on crop conditions in Missouri and Kansas. On Aug. 12, the tour will explore yield estimates from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. On Aug. 13, we will move into the Eastern Corn Belt -- Illinois, Indiana and Ohio -- before publishing a final look at Gro's overall national yield predictions for the 2020 corn and soybean crops on Aug. 14. Readers should note that the Gro yield visuals are continually updated, while the DTN feature articles are based on the company's yield estimate at the time the article was written. Numbers quoted in the articles may be different than those on the Gro website depending on when viewed.
To see all the tour articles and related DTN stories about the 2020 crop, visit our tour site at: https://spotlights.dtnpf.com/….
About Gro Intelligence: The New York-based company is focused on creating data analytics for the agriculture industry. Gro builds proprietary crop models that use satellite imagery, soil conditions, weather and other crop and environmental data to produce crop health and yield prediction numbers and visuals.
To learn more about Gro, go here: https://www.gro-intelligence.com/….
Katie Dehlinger can be reached at Katie.email@example.com
Follow her on Twitter @KatieD_DTN
Emily Unglesbee can be reached at Emily.firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter @Emily_Unglesbee.
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