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BLOOMINGTON — When Central Illinois crop estimators waded through cornfields in August and shared estimates of an average crop, more than a few farmers cast a critical eye at the numbers.

Drought conditions prevailed most of the summer growing season. How could crops produce even remotely average yields?

It turns out final corn yields bested those August estimates. Illinois Agricultural Statistics Service county yield averages released this week showed McLean County growers harvested an average of 161 bushels per acre compared to late summer estimates of 137 bushels to 143 bushels per acre.

"Our actual average was 159 bushels per acre. We were 17 bushels better than we thought earlier," said Kevin Meiss, Soy Capital Ag Services farm manager. "Two things had to have happened: late rains added weight to the kernels, and it took fewer kernels than we figured to make a bushel."

Frank Hill, Heartland Bank and Trust Co. agricultural services vice president, agreed. When he and other bank yield estimators took to the fields last summer, they adjusted an age-old formula. Soybean yields don’t get estimated because difficulty in counting both pods and the size of seeds in each pod.

Typically, the corn yield formula uses 80,000 kernels per bushel, but some estimators pushed the number to 90,000 or even 100,000 kernels. They thought dry weather would translate into lighter kernels, thus requiring more kernels to make a bushel.

"People who expected 140 bushels harvested 160. I believe everyone was pleasantly surprised," said Hill.

Estimators for Bell Enterprises Inc. at Deer Creek came closest to the final corn yield mark. They estimated corn in area encompassing Congerville, Carlock, Deer Creek, Goodfield, Mackinaw and Minier would yield 152 bushels per acre. The final yield average for the area was 149 bushels per acre.

"We need to know the crop size to know how much space to have for corn at harvest," said Kim Craig, of the grain storage company. "We saw from the yield estimates that we weren’t going to have enough space. We started shipping corn the day after we did the estimate. We continued shipping through the last week of harvest. We shipped just shy of 1 million bushels. We had no corn stored on the ground, and we were plug full at harvest."

After shipping corn for a couple of weeks, however, Craig began doubting the yield estimates. He said everyone on the estimating team wondered if they should change the kernel formula. No one saw a reason to alter the formula, and Craig’s corn shipping decisions proved correct.

"We see corn yields continuing to increase. We anticipate more farmers switching acreage from soybeans to corn because the costs of growing corn are less and the threat of soybean rust is there every year. We’re putting up a 750,000 bushel storage bin at Mackinaw this year," said Craig.

All three men cited rains brought by Hurricane Dennis into Central Illinois around the Fourth of July as saving both corn and soybean crops. Late August rains further aided crops, they noted.

Pantagraph area corn yields ranged from 139 bushels per acre in LaSalle County to 167 bushels per acre in Iroquois County. Soybean yields ranged from 48 bushels per acre in LaSalle County to 56 bushels per acre in DeWitt County, which ranked second in the state.

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