If you want to talk drought go to Australia
Nobody is dancing in the fields, but Iowa farmers generally have heaved sighs of relief as the 2012 harvest closes with yields better than expected during the depths of the drought this summer.
Through Monday, crop insurers reported that 9 percent of Iowa’s corn and 4 percent of the state’s soybeans were written off as lost under federally insured crop insurance programs. That compares with 24 percent nationally for corn and 6 percent for soybeans.
How did Iowa farmers beat expectations? They won’t agree on a single reason, but some pointed to biotech crops that handle stress better, no-till techniques and soil that retained moisture.
Iowa State University agronomist Mahdi Al-Kaisi said the pleasant surprise came about because “most models did not factor subsoil moisture availability. Improved seed technology led to better rooting depth to better utilize subsoil moisture at five feet or lower.”
The hottest July since the epic heat wave of 1936, coming exactly during pollination, had prompted dire forecasts of disastrous yields.
“Frankly, I was a little shocked to see my yield monitor showing as much as 260 bushels per acre on some rows,” said farmer Kevin Ross of Underwood, president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association.
“Of course,” he added, “I didn’t get 260 everywhere. My averages were probably down in the 140-160-per-bushel area. But that’s still much better than we expected.”
Bill Horan, who farms in Calhoun County, said the 150 bushels per acre for his corn yield was “20 or 30 bushels per acre better than I expected.”
“To say that I was relieved is an understatement,” he said.
Curt Sindergard, who farms near Rolfe in Pocahontas County, said that despite getting just 11 inches of rain between April planting and an early harvest in September, he also achieved some 200-plus-bushel-per-acre yields.
“If we’d only known in July, we wouldn’t have been quite so worried, but I’ll admit that I had some sleepless nights,” he said.
The unknown for Iowa farmers and their agronomist advisers was massive this year because the state hadn’t had a serious drought for 24 years, several lifetimes in the cycles of plant development and farming practices.
The 140-bushel-per-acre yield contrasts starkly with the 84 bushels per acre Iowa averaged in 1988, which, along with 1977 and 1956, is considered the worst Iowa drought of the post-World War II era.
That margin over 1988 gives advocates of biotech genetic engineering and aggressive hybrid breeding confirmation of what they have argued is the triumph of technology in agriculture. About 90 percent of the corn and soybeans planted in Iowa are biotech.
“In many ways, 2012 was a worse growing condition year than 1988, and yet look at the higher yield,” said Paul Schickler, president of DuPont Pioneer.
“Our whole breeding and biotechnology efforts are geared to reducing stress on corn and soybean plants, heat and drought in particular,” he said. “Without biotech, we wouldn’t have had near the yields we had this year.”
“If we hadn’t had biotech this year, we would have had only about half the crop that we got,” he said...
Source: Argentine Beef Packers S.A.