Yield forecasts are rosier once the harvest is complete

Average corn yields in Iowa are expected to approach last year’s record levels, despite the severe drought that developed throughout the growing season, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

“Harvest is pretty much complete, and I think people have been pleasantly surprised by the corn and soybean yields,” said Aaron Saeugling, an Iowa State University Extension field agronomist who oversees the southwest corner of the state. “We had a fairly complete soil moisture profile well into spring. … Maize, in particular, could take deep root.”

The USDA forecast this month that corn yields will average 202 bushels per acre, compared to 204 bushels last year. (The USDA originally reported last year’s yields averaged 205 bushels per acre, but it has revised the estimate.)

Soybean yields are expected to average 59 bushels per acre, down from 63 last year, which was also a record high. The 2021 growing season was also drier than normal, but the harvest was aided by timely rains.

The state’s northwest corner bore the brunt of this year’s drought, and it shows in the yields: Corn yields in this area average about 170 bushels per acre, said Leah Ten Napel, an Extension field agronomist who oversees the area.

“Yields varied greatly for farmers,” she said. “Producers in areas that had timely rains were over 200 (bushels per acre).”

But some fields have had yields of 50 bushels per acre or less, Ten Napel said: “We’ve seen a lot of drought impact this year.”

Drought conditions were somewhat alleviated by widespread heavy rains earlier this month, but the state’s condition heads into the winter in far worse shape than last year.

The highest drought conditions in 2021 – which were similar overall to the current drought – occurred in the summer and improved significantly by late November. About 13% of the state suffered from drought a year ago, compared to 73% now. It’s unclear what that means for earnings next year.

“There are some concerns for the future,” said Saeugling. “I’m concerned about a lack of subsurface moisture this fall.”

Statewide, about 38% of subsoil and 48% of topsoil has adequate moisture for crops, the USDA reported Monday.

This year, Iowa is expected to produce about 2.51 billion bushels of corn, up from about 2.54 billion last year. That would be the highest of any state, with Illinois coming in second at 2.27 billion bushels.

But Illinois is expected to have higher average yields of 215 bushels per acre — a new record for the state. Illinois farmers have about 15% fewer acres of cornfields.

But Illinois will again lead the nation in soybean production with about 684.8 million bushels, compared to Iowa’s 591 million. Iowa has slightly fewer soybean acres and lower yields. Illinois is expected to harvest about 64 bushels per acre.