There were two surprises during the 2003 harvest: corn yields were encouraging, and soybeans were disappointing. It’s unusual to have near-record yields in one commodity and well-below-average yields in another commodity during the same growing season.
So just what happened to cause this surprise outcome in both of our staple farm commodities? First the bright spot. Corn yields will probably end up averaging in the 170- to 180-bushel-per-acre category. Several Peoria area farmers harvested more than 200 bushels per acre.
Take a look back on the 2003 growing season, and it was obviously an ideal growing environment for corn. First, the corn was planted on time, which is in April or the first week in May. April corn planting usually sets the stage for optimum corn yields. Second, we had adequate rainfall when corn is most demanding, which is July. There was some concern about dryness in June, but this may have been a blessing in disguise, as corn roots will drive deeper into the soil early in the growing season to basically help insulate the plant from a late season dry spell. A third weather condition that allowed for excellent corn yields was temperatures. During pollination and kernel fill in July, temperatures basically stayed in the 80s during the day and cooled down into the 60s at night. The cooler-than-normal night temperatures probably contributed more to yields than it’s been credited with.
Now let’s take a look at soybeans. Just what happened to cause such a reduction in bean yields? Normal yields in our area run near 50 bushel per acre. The 2003 season saw yields significantly lower, at around 35 to 40 bushel. Just looking at the soybean fields this summer and fall, it looked like a normal harvest. Plants looked healthy, with normal pod counts. As plants matured, the results were more revealing. Although the pods were plentiful on the plant, the beans in the pods weren’t. A normal bean pod produces three beans. This year, there were several pods on plants with only one or two beans in them. A second reason for low yields was the small bean size. Instead of pea-sized beans, farmers were harvesting BB-sized beans.
August weather is the primary determining factor for bean yields. Our August weather this year gave us several days of 90-degree temperatures and no rain. So, although there was good growing conditions early in the season for the bean plant, the most critical time for determining yields, August, wasn’t conducive to a bountiful bean harvest.
Another factor that may have caused some yield loss was soybean aphids. This pest has been migrating south the past couple of years, and some Peoria County fields were sprayed later in the season. This aphid is new to Midwestern agriculture, so there’s not much known about it yet.
One encouraging factor on the soybean side is prices increased rapidly throughout September. Yields were lower than expected throughout the Midwest, especially in Iowa, Minnesota, and Missouri, as dry weather had a strong hold on these western corn belt states. Chicago Board of Trade futures prices even touched $7 a bushel in late September. High prices are needed to make up for lower yields. IBI