Corn soybean summer photo

Inconsistency is the one constant coming out of a major U.S. crop tour that kicked off on Monday as scouts get to see first-hand the impact of wild weather on Midwestern corn and soybean fields.

In Ohio and South Dakota, development was well behind last year after excessive rain delayed planting before conditions turned dry in recent weeks, according to the first day of the Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour. The weather swings affected areas differently, with the sizes of plants and their kernels and pods varying widely. In parts of Nebraska, corn yields were ahead of three-year averages.

More than 100 scouts are on the four-day tour through the eastern and western crop belt in seven states. Traders and analysts will use the results to gauge the weather damage and how that stacks up against the latest government report that sent markets tumbling last week by projecting higher yields than traders expected.

The tour began in Ohio for those traveling to the eastern crop belt and in South Dakota for those taking the western route

In South Dakota, corn yields averaged 154 bushels per acre, according to 68 samples, down 13% from last year’s average. The soybean pod count in a three-by-three-foot square averaged 832.9 pods, according to 69 samples, down 19%. In Ohio, the average corn yield among 116 samples was 154 bushels, down 14% while the average soy pod count from 119 samples was 764 versus 1,248 last year.

“There’s quite a bit of hit and miss — some really immature crops and as a result we have yield calculations all over the place,” Brian Grete, editor of the Pro Farmer newsletter and leader of the eastern half of the tour, said Monday. “We’ve got some good ones and we’ve got some clunkers.”

Planting in many fields was at least two to three weeks late, making a long autumn necessary for crops to reach full maturity before a frost threat. Recent storms left standing water in some fields.

In South Dakota it was a similar story.

“Some beans are up to your knee and some are up to your waist and the pod counts are all over the place,” said Jeff Wilson, a senior market analysts at Pro Farmer. “Corn is similar. It’s highly variable. It’s really immature.”

While crop concerns pushed up prices earlier this year, giving farmers an opportunity to sell, bigger harvests in South America and Europe have undercut American supplies in global export markets. The loss in demand and increased variability in the development of corn and soy has added to frustrations for growers already grappling with the yearlong trade dispute with top global soy buyer China.

The development disparities may help explain why traders were surprised by last week’s government report.

“South Dakota really struggled,” said Brad Nelson, a master scout who farms 1,200 acres in southern Minnesota. “Iowa and Nebraska are the good parts of the country.”

He cast doubt over the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s estimates, pointing to a tight basis.

“In a year where we are supposed to have the fifth largest crop in history, we wouldn’t have such a narrow basis at this time of the year,” he said.

The crop-scouting task this year is also made difficult by record amounts of acres that couldn’t be planted due to relentless rain.

Kurt Stiefvater, who farms 1,800 acres in South Dakota and stopped by to chat with scouts, planted about 30% of his field, a fraction he considered “pretty average” for the region. He didn’t plant any soybeans.

“Some guys planted beans out here, but I just didn’t see the economics,” he said.

Pro Farmer will use findings from the tour to come up with estimates Friday. That’s going to be a tough task given the unevenness and late planting.

“Because of the immaturity you just don’t know how it will turn out,” Grete said. “Last year’s crop was much further along than what this year’s is.”

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