Farmers had a much earlier start on harvest this year, as the corn began coming out of the fields shortly after Labor Day. Yields on corn are all over the board—I’ve heard field averages from below 100 bushels per acre to over 200 bushels per acre. Many combines are equipped with yield monitors—technology that measures the yield of the crop as it is harvested. The readings from these monitors showed wide swings within individual fields.
Hindsight says we had too much of a good thing—too much rain and too much heat—for optimum corn production. The rains, which began in earnest in late May and June, would have been fine for most fields in late July and August, when the plants are soaking up all of the moisture possible. But in May and June, on the other hand, the crop is still in its infancy, and very little moisture is being absorbed by the young plants. The soil stayed wet, oxygen was depleted in the soil profile, and nitrogen, a vital nutrient, was lost.
Corn does like heat, but just how many 90-degree days did we have this summer? Too many for a corn plant to produce to its potential. Another factor was the sustained heat. After those 90-degree days, the nights did not cool down. Cool nights seem to be relished by corn, as we experienced in 2008 when Peoria County averaged 201 bushels per acre.
Two main points can be made for the sporadic corn yields. In a typical year, the flat, black soil will yield the best. Not so this year. The higher yields came from fields with rolling terrain that was able to drain the excessive water. Also, corn-on-corn planting really took a hit this year. Corn will normally yield better if it is planted after soybeans. There have been reports of a 30- to 40-bushel yield reduction if corn was planted in a field for the second year in a row.
In relative terms, soybeans fared much better. Farmers usually begin planting soybeans right after the corn is in the ground. That was the intention last spring as well, but as always, farmers work around the weather. When the rains began to fall in May, most soybeans were still in the bag, so farmers had to dodge the storms to plant their soybeans sporadically through May and June. The later planting dates did not seem to affect yields, though. The crucial July, August and early-September rains were beneficial to the soybean plants. This moisture increased the number of pods on the plant, the number of beans in a pod (three beans per pod instead of one or two), and bean size, all of which contributed to higher yields.
Disease and insect damage was minimized this year, although some soybean fields got hit by SDS, or Sudden Death Syndrome. SDS infests soybean plants in the spring but does not show up until later in the summer as plants suddenly wither and die. Research points to cold and dampness at planting as the instigator of the disease. But other than SDS, both corn and soybeans seemed to weather the pest cycle for 2010. The heavy rains and heat may have taken a toll on some insects that normally prey on crops.
On the other side of the equation, corn and soybean prices increased through September. Reports in August showed yields smaller than earlier estimated, which created a significant spike in prices. At one point in late September, corn prices reached $5 per bushel and soybeans surpassed $11 per bushel. Earlier in the growing season, it seemed corn prices would struggle to stay above $3.50 per bushel and soybeans above $10 per bushel. Time will tell if higher prices will be sustained. iBi