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U.S grain-tour finds stressed grain crops in Iowa

WORTHINGTON, Minnesota (Reuters) -- A pocket of drought in roughly five counties in west central Iowa is causing big problems for corn, soybeans and their caretaker/producers but the cautious outlook for crops there will not have a marked effect on total production for the United States.

"There's a four-county area that's really cooked and I sympathize, sympathize and sympathize with them," said ProFarmer producer Jay Merryman of Marshalltown, Iowa.


Merryman and about 15 others have this week been touring the western fringe of the U.S. Midwest corn and soybean region on the western leg of the annual ProFarmer tour of the key Midwest crop areas.

The group this week has scouted corn and soybean fields in South Dakota, Nebraska, far western Iowa and a small corner of Minnesota and Thursday will scout the balance of Minnesota's cropland.

An eastern leg of the crop tour has been covering this year's "garden spot" of likely bumper and record high yielding corn and soy in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and roughly the eastern 75 percent of Iowa.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Friday, in its August crop report, pegged the 2000 U.S. corn crop at a record 10.369 billion bushels and soybean production at a record 2.989 billion.

Drought stress that is evident in the far western Midwest has the crop scouts here saying it is unlikely the USDA corn or soybean production estimate will be increased in future reports.

They said the volatile and mostly dry weather cycles this spring and summer and recent heat will likely trim bushels from the western region's balance sheet, especially in traditionally large corn counties in western Iowa near Sioux City including Cherokee, Ida, Woodbury, Sac and portions of Plymouth.

Last year, these five counties produced 107.240 million of the 1.758 billion bushels produced in Iowa, according to the USDA.

"But given the big picture, this is very isolated," said Chip Flory, editor of ProFarmer and leader of the western leg of this year's ProFarmer crop tour.

Indeed, District 4 or the West Central District of Iowa, which includes the driest counties, was pegged by the tour group on Wednesday to produce an average corn yield per acre this year of 127.8 bushels, a respectable number considering the shortfall in the drought-affected counties.

Last year, the ProFarmer tour pegged Iowa's District 4 to produce 136.6 bushels per acre. The soybean pod count this year in a three square-foot section was estimated by the group at 1,073 versus last year's 1,153.

The ProFarmer crop tour estimates soybean pod numbers rather than bushels per acre. Pod counts are a rough barometer of potential yield per acre.

Corn and soybean fields surveyed on Wednesday showed minimal disease and pest problems but there have been recurring incidences of what agronomists are calling the western bean cutworm. Despite its name, the bean cutworm affects and damages the ears of corn rather than causes problems in the soybean crops.

There also have been sightings of grey leaf spot on corn plants, but the infestation is relatively low and was not seen by the tour group as a serious problem.

Severe grey leaf spot can hamper the transfer of nutrients and energy from the corn plant's leaves to the final destination, the corn ear or kernel.

Crop scouts on Thursday will tour Minnesota corn and soybean crops.

"You're in the garden spot of Minnesota this year," a Minnesota producer said, referring to the western group's presence in southern Minnesota overnight.

Timely rains have boosted Minnesota's crop prospects this year but in portions of eastern and in the northeastern growing region of the state, too much rain and flooding has led to water stress rather than drought stress.

The eastern leg of the ProFarmer tour on Thursday will travel through the lush roughly eastern three-quarters of Iowa's farmland, one of several regions of the United States that the USDA is expecting record high corn and soybean yields this year.

The western and eastern legs of the tour are slated to connect overnight Thursday in Owatonna, Minnesota, and early Friday ProFarmer is slated to release its estimate for 2000 U.S. corn and soybean production.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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