When Milan farmer Jim Coyne began harvesting his corn this fall, he wondered if the production meter in his combine was broken.
He knew that some corn he had planted on sandy land not far from Jumer’s Casino and Hotel in Rock Island would not be good.
However, there were other fields where the production meter was reading 220-230 bushels of corn an acre, he said. That’s a huge number, especially in a year where farmers were fighting one of the worst droughts in U.S. history.
“I was sure the meter was broken and had it calibrated, and it was telling me the truth,” Coyne said. “On a farm down by Aledo, I was averaging 192 bushels an acre, but they got rain down that way.”
In total, Coyne estimates his corn yields averaged 175-180 bushels an acre.
The same thing happened with his soybeans. He had fields where he harvested 55 bushels an acre and others where the per-acre yield was 70 bushels.
“I’ve seen better production numbers out there in good years, but after going through what we did in the summer and then crawling into the combine and seeing numbers like that, I was shocked,” Coyne said.
“It was just a sigh of relief. I knew I was going to be OK and that I’d be able to pay my bills.”
Coyne said he knows there are other farmers who were not as lucky as he was this year. He also knows there were some as lucky or luckier.
In its Nov. 9 crop production report, the National Agricultural Statistical Service is reflecting the type of year it was for farmers — some good, some bad. The agency is the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
U.S. corn production jumped slightly to 10.725 billion bushels, up from the October estimate of 10.705 billion bushels but still below the September estimate of 10.727 billion bushels.
Nationally, corn production is down 13 percent from last year and is the lowest since 2006 when it totaled just more than 10.5 billion bushels.
Soybean estimates continue to improve.
U.S. soybean production is expected to be 2.97 billion bushels, according to the November report. That is up from 2.86 billion bushels in the October report and 2.63 billion in the September report.
Soybean estimates in Iowa and Illinois also increased in those reports.
“The soybean crop did better than expected,” said Virgil Schmitt, a field agronomist for the Iowa State University Extension Office in Muscatine. “People tend to overestimate the damage early stress puts on soybeans.
“There’s an old saying that soybean yields are made in August. That’s not entirely true, but soybeans have the ability to rebound if you treat them halfway decently in August, and we got some rains that month, which helped.”
But while soybean yield estimates are climbing, Schmitt said, corn estimates for Iowa and Illinois seem to be up and down, as they are nationally.
“That’s a little bit unusual,” he said. “The long-term history is typically each report has a lower yield than the previous report. The reality I think is that we don’t have a full grasp on corn.”
The final report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service won’t be out until March, Schmitt said.
“That’s how long it takes to figure it out,” he said.
Darrel Good, an agricultural economist at the University of Illinois, said futures prices for soybeans and corn have been dropping, but that is not unusual.
“So far, prices seem to be following the classic pattern associated with small crops, peaking early in the marketing year and then declining as the year progresses,” Good said.
The futures market reflects expectations that prices will continue to decline, especially into the 2013-14 marketing year, he said.
What the futures prices mean to consumers depends on what they are buying at the grocery store, Schmitt said.
“If you’re buying a $3 box of corn flakes, it may go up about 16 cents,” he said. “There’s very little corn in those corn flakes.”
However, with corn futures still above $7 a bushel and soybeans above $14 a bushel, consumers will continue to see the prices of some commodities rise, such as meats because grain is used to feed hogs, cattle and poultry.