Despite recent dry conditions in the Sauk Valley and much of the state and corn belt, there’s still a chance for record yields this harvest.
In its September Crop Production report, the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistics Service forecast 13.8 billion bushels of corn nationally, up 1 percent from its August report.
It also forecast soybean production at 3.15 billion bushels nationally, which was down 3 percent from its August report.
If those forecasts come true, it will be the best corn yield in U.S. history, and the fourth highest soybean yield.
The September report also predicted 165 bushels of corn per acre in Illinois, unchanged from the August report, and 46 bushels of soybeans per acre, down 1 bushel per acre from the August prediction.
The state’s northwest district, which includes the Sauk Valley, was predicted to be above the state average, producing nearly 327 million bushels of corn, with 168 bushels per acre. The district also was predicted to be above average for soybeans, producing 50 bushels per acre and 49.75 million bushels total.
Jim Schielein, 48, shares 2,000 acres near Dixon with another farmer. The land is split by the Rock River, and they farm about 1,360 acres of commercial corn, 500 acres of soybeans and 140 acres of wheat.
“Through about the middle of July, I would’ve told you I probably had one of the best crops I raised, especially south of the river,” he said. “We just had a tremendous crop coming on. Then we ran out of water.”
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, Lee and Whiteside counties, along with most of northern Illinois, are experiencing abnormally dry conditions. In August, conditions in the Midwest worsened, when 25.61 percent of the region was declared in drought, up from 4.31 percent.
But despite the dry weather and high heat, the USDA held steady on its Illinois yield forecast, making the case that the weather hasn’t had too much of a negative impact.
“I really don’t know what to make of that,” Schielein said. “I talk to a lot of guys up and down the state. ... There’s empirical evidence, and then there’s anecdotal. And I hear the anecdotal, and it makes me wonder where the USDA is getting their numbers.”
Schielein added that he trusts the methodology of the reports and that he thinks the agency was accurate with its soybean predictions.
As a pilot, he says he can see from the air a clear difference between crops in western Lee County and the eastern portion of the county, where there seems to have been more rain.
The consistently high predictions could be a result of some areas making up for others – just like the differences within Lee County.
Dr. Emerson Nafzinger, a professor in the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois, said he wasn’t surprised to see the September report keep corn predictions on pace for a record.
“They kept the Corn Belt states pretty much the same,” he said. “A lot of the increase came from the south. Kansas came up quite a bit, and it looks like they have a pretty good crop coming up in the south.”
But if some early harvesting in the Sauk Valley is any indication, the area may have crops as good as farmers foresaw in July, when the conditions were better.
Gunnar Ortgiesen, 28, of Dixon, is the chief financial officer and general manager of Tettens Grain LLC in Sterling.
About seven farmers have started bringing corn in, with one farmer seeing yields in the low 200s per acre and another between 150 and 160 bushels per acre, Ortgiesen said.
Yields still look good, especially compared to last year, he added, so he wasn’t surprised by the September report.
The corn market fell Thursday after the September report was released, and Ortgiesen said that’s a trend he expects to continue.
“As soon as the report came out, [corn] was down about 16 cents or so in December corn,” he said. “It closed down 6 cents.”
Don Temple, 61, farms 650 acres on the western edge of Whiteside County. About a month ago, he was anticipating a “really good” crop. While he’s still optimistic, he really won’t know what it will be until the harvest.
“It’s going to be above average,” Temple said. “But it might not be a best ever.”