2017 Farm Tour: A Conversation with Doug Kirk

On Monday evening, we sat down with Doug Kirk for his firsthand account of what’s happening on the 2017 Farm Journal Crop Tour.

During the first day, Doug toured 17 fields and traveled 350 miles across the country. The farm tour collided with an untold number of tourists who had traveled south to catch a glimpse of the solar eclipse. Unfortunately, Doug and his cohort had to watch the eclipse on television due to a lack of glasses available.

Doug started his tour in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and finished the day down in Grand Island, Nebraska. Overall, Doug was surprised by what they didn’t find when they toured the fields.

“What we found in South Dakota is about what we expected. But Nebraska [fields were] not up to expectations. The irrigated corn is not living up to potential.”

Doug said that before yesterday’s data was reported, he had anticipated that Nebraska numbers would come in lower than expectations. “I expect that the [percent of] harvestable ears to the number of plants is low,” he said. “There are questions about the size of those ears concerning the weight. The weight of the ear is a big determinant in yield averages.”

On the soybean side, Doug said that quality met expectations, but the weather will have a key role in what the final harvest looks like in the months ahead.

“On the bean side of things, we saw plants that were in line to what to expect with the trend. But this crop will need the finishing rains in September. There is not an abundance of soil moisture,” he said.

Each night of the tour, the crop scouts gather the daily data compiled from 400 to 500 producers. Those data points were shared on Monday night. Brennan reported most of this data in his Breakfast Brief this morning.

The South Dakota average yield sits near 150 bushels an acre, according to the farm tour data. This figure is off about 6 bushels from the 3-year average of 156.1 bpa. [4] Soybean pod counts in South Dakota were off 12.5% from the 3-year average. That final number came in at 889.6 per 3×3 square foot.

Over in Ohio, corn yields came in at 164.6 bushels per acre, a nice bump from the 3-year average of 158.8 bushels per acre. On the soybean side, the figures lagged what the average as well. “This year’s average 3×3 square foot pod counts came in at 1107, or nearly 6% less than that of the 3-year average of 1174.2,” Brennan wrote. 

Little Trust in the USDA WASDE Report

Doug outlined some observations from his first day on the road. One of the more interesting is the skepticism surrounding the USDA’s estimates in its August WASDE report.

People are very skeptical of the USDA and the entire process of how the agency reaches its conclusions,” he said. “The methodology isn’t that well understood, so producers are skeptical.”

Doug says that very people he is meeting will say that they are having the best crop of their career. But the USDA is still reporting the third-largest corn yields and the second-largest soybean yields on record.

“It takes a lot of people having record years to get to that point,” he said.

That said, it doesn’t mean that the USDA is completely wrong. Doug is expecting that when they get to Minnesota this week, they will see much higher yields. He also noted that yesterday’s number in the eastern leg – like in Ohio and Indiana – were strong.

Variability Creates Opportunity

During Doug’s 300-mile trip, he had one observation that can create an immense amount of opportunity for farmers who are willing to break the traditional sales mold and shift their grain to new platforms like FarmLead this season.

“Overall, there was an immense amount of variability. I drove 300 miles, and we saw yields in one area that was barely sitting at 100 bushels per acre in corn. But we’d drive into another region, and we’d see 175-bushel-per-acre corn in an area that usually averages 170 bushels.”

This variability will set pressure on buyers who need to fill quotas and source from areas affected by hail damage, low moisture, and other negative factors like tip back. This is something that Doug himself discussed ahead of the August WASDE report and you can read up on here it.

“Buyers will be going outside of the regions to find the quality grain,” Doug said. This is a great opportunity for farmers to market beyond their nearby elevators to find a higher price.

Doug will continue the farm tour Tuesday, traveling from Grand Island to Nebraska City. On Wednesday, after we hear figures from the Nebraska fields, he will travel to Spencer, Iowa.

Doug’s four-day trip will conclude in Rochester, Minnesota.

Later today, we’ll talk a bit more about the crop tour in Grain Markets Today.

Also, look for a wrap-up from Doug later this week to hear a different perspective that one shared amongst other ag media channels.

About the Author
Garrett Baldwin

Garrett Baldwin is a content strategist and editor at FarmLead. He covers the global grain markets and public policy issues related to the agricultural industry. He is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He also holds a Master’s Degree in Economic Policy from The Johns Hopkins University, an MS in Agricultural Economics from Purdue University, and an MBA in Finance from Indiana University.

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