Let there be corn! Reality check on the 2012 drought and corn yields in relation to droughts of the past

There’s a lot of hype out there regarding the drought and its potential effects on crops. Predictions range from increased food prices to dustbowlification”, a term coined by “Joe Romm. A complicit media follows. Tom Nelson points out some interesting facts:

Drought to cost $12B, most since 1988 – USATODAY.com

The Kiwis think otherwise though, from radio New Zealand: July 26, 2012 : Worst drought in 50 years driving up US food prices

Food prices in the United States are expected to rise by 3% or 4% next year because of the worst drought in more than 50 years.  Corn, soybean and other commodity prices have all soared in recent weeks as fields dry out and crops wither in the heat. The drought, which is affecting much of the Midwest, is the worst since 1956.

What Drought Did to Crop Yields in the 1930s – Livinghistory.com

In 1930, Nebraska got 22 inches of rain, and the state’s corn crop averaged 25 bushels per acre. In 1934, Nebraska saw the driest year on record with only 14.5 inches of rainfall. The state’s corn crop dropped even more to only 6.2 bushels per acre.

[July 19, 2012]:  2012 Potential Corn Yields Based on July 15 Hybrid-Maize Model Simulations – UNL CropWatch, July

[See table 1 here: For five Nebraska locations, median forecasted yields for rainfed corn are 118-130 bushels per acre; for irrigated corn, the median forecasted yields are 228-245 bushels per acre]

From the University of Nebraska-Lincoln:

Stars indicate the sites for which in-season yield forecasting were performed using the Hybrid-Maize model with actual weather and dominant management practices and soil series at each site. Weather data were retrieved from High Plain Regional Climate Center (HPRCC) and the Water and Atmospheric Resources Monitoring Program (WARM) through the Illinois Climate Network (Illinois State Water Survey [ICWS], Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign).

End-of-Season Yield Potentials as of July 15

Corn Yield Potential (Yp) forecasts, as well as the underpinning data used for the simulations, can be seen in Table 1. The long-term yield potential prediction based on 30 years of weather data (Table 1, fourth column from the right) is compared to the range of predicted 2012 corn yield potential (three columns on the right), which includes the yield potential simulated under the most likely scenario of weather expected for the rest of the season (median) and for relatively favorable and unfavorable scenarios for the rest of the season (75th and 25th percentiles) based on historical weather data.

According to the July 15 simulations, the “most likely” end-of-season dryland corn yield potential in Nebraska, Iowa, and southeastern Illinois (“median” yields, red column in Table 1) is 10% to 26% below the long-term average yield potential (Table 1). Even if weather turns favorable for dryland corn during the rest of the 2012 season, the resulting yields (75th yields, blue column in Table 1) are still likely to be below the long-term average (Table 1). How about if dry and hot conditions persist? Certainly the likehood and magnitude of yield reduction in dryland corn will increase. In fact, Hybrid-Maize predicts dryland corn yield potential to be about 30% to 40% below the long-term average if weather remains hot and dry for the rest of the season (25th yields, green column in Table 1). The only bright spots in this analysis were in Illinois at DeKalb and Monmouth where rainfall during the past two weeks appears to have provided relief. At these sites, current projects indicate that end-of-season yields will be near their long-term averages unless weather once again turns dry and hot at those locations (Table 1). Likewise, recent weather conditions at Brookings, S.D. have been conducive to achieve yields near the long-term average.

What about irrigated corn in Nebraska? Contrary to the projections for dryland corn, irrigated corn yield potential is only two to three bushels below the long-term average at Holdrege, Mead, and Concord (Table 1). High nighttime temperatures during the last two weeks at Clay Center have hastened crop development and increased nighttime respiration costs, leading to a projected yield potential that is 9 bushels below the long-term average. At O’Neill last week’s weather did not depart from historical temperature norms, hence, projected yield potential is still near-average. But it is important to keep in mind that if hot weather persists for the rest of the season, the likehood (and magnitude) of below-average yields will increase for irrigated corn due to more rapid maturation and a shorter grain-filling period.

Summary

Projected 2012 end-of-season yields are well below the long-term yield average for dryland corn in Nebraska, Iowa, and southeastern Illinois and near average in South Dakota and central-west Illinois. Projected yield for irrigated corn in Nebraska is slightly below average at most locations, except for Clay Center, which it’s 9 bushels below average and O’Neill where it’s near average. If hot, dry conditions persist during coming weeks, we expect projected yields will drop substantially under both dryland and irrigated conditions. We will continue to update these projections as the season progresses.

==============================================================

The reality check is: Even with the bad news of reduced yields of regular corn at 22-42 bu/ac below average, and  trrigated corn  at 2-9 bu/ac below average,  2012 Nebraska corn yields are still forecasted to be 20-40 times the  1934 Nebraska corn yields.

Yes it was really so much worse in the 1930’s than the present:

h/t to Steve Goddard and this EPA report for the above graph and points.

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Family members farming in southern IL are reporting ZERO bushels/acre unless significant and immediate rain relief occurs. Soy is also on the ropes.

irrigation means that ground water is up, probably due to the high snow levels last winter. We must not forget that ”corn” or maize as we call it, has had much genetic modification to resist drought etc.. Combination of both probably.
So ”the end” recedes yet again.

Fred Bauer

How seriously should we take the University Nebraska-Lincoln if they can’t tell Indiana from Ohio?

Latimer Alder

Dunno how good their science is but their geography is crap.
Even from as far away as London, England I know that the state due east of Minnesota is Wisconsin. Not Wyoming as labelled on the map.
Bad mistake.

Rms

The map says Ohio (OH) and should be Indiana (IN).

SocialBlunder

Interesting that one of the key points – “The recent period of increasing heat is distinguished by a rise in extremely high nighttime temperatures.” – is a predicted AGW signature since greenhouse gases trap the heat.

Andrew

Best effort yet to compile the whole AGW scam should be published big time
http://stevengoddard.wordpress.com/2012/07/25/history-of-how-this-fraud-was-perpetrated/

Tom

Bushels per acre? Really???
Not only has the rest of the world agreed to a single system of units, it’s also agreed to measure yields in weight per area, not volume per area.

Nate_OH
Gail Combs

To put that statement “In 1930, Nebraska got 22 inches of rain, and the state’s corn crop averaged 25 bushels per acre. In 1934, Nebraska saw the driest year on record with only 14.5 inches of rainfall. The state’s corn crop dropped even more to only 6.2 bushels per acre.” into proper perspective her is information from the Agricultural Extension Service The University of Tennessee

The average yield 55 years ago was about 20 to 25 bushels per acre, which was no better than the yields recorded 100 years ago. Tennessee farmers increased corn yields from 35 bushels per acre in 1955, to about 40 bushels in 1960, to 50 bushels in 1965, to 85 bushels in 1979.
Statewide averages continued to increase from 98 bushels in 1985 to 107 bushels in 1989 and 114 bushels in 2000. The record average yield of 124 bushels per acre was obtained in 1992….

Basics of Corn Production in North Dakota “…Grain yield of corn in the state has increased at a remarkable rate in the recent past, with yields now consistently averaging over 100 bushels per acre….”
GEE, it sure looks like “Global Warming” and CO2 is INCREASING the corn yields and how! even in colder than hades North Dakota

Katherine

So that state to the east of Minnesota is now Wysconsin? :p

billc

It would be cool to see an animation of the drought development. Anyway in Pittsburgh NOAA’s current outlook (as of 7/19) puts us in a region of drought development, but it has been quite rainy over the past week, enough to erase a small but noticeable portion of the year’s rainfall deficit (which was positive as of June 1 and then it basically didn’t rain for 6 weeks). Next outlook – improvement?

Bill Illis

Monthly US wheat and corn prices going back to 1784 – Nominal first.
http://img33.imageshack.us/img33/7066/cornwheatprices1784.png
Real terms – adjusted for estimated CPI inflation.
http://img855.imageshack.us/img855/5601/realcornwheat1784.png

BillD

The good news is that Northern Indiana where I live has gotten good rain in the last 10 days. That will help the crops but the very stunted 3-4 feet tall corn will yield only 20-35% of normal yields even with the recent rain. Soybeans will probably recover better. Farming in the midwest will probably become a difficult proposition when we start getting severe droughts much more frequently. The new hybrids give much better yields with less water, but almost no rain from early May to mid-July was a disaster. In the future we can probably rely on Canada for corn as well as wheat.

Yeah, Tom, bushels per acre. Welcome to the democracy of the agricultural dead. Makes it kind of hard to sell our agricultural database services abroad when we’re locked into Imperial standards, but that’s the industry standards in the US.
(Unless you’re talking about cotton – lbs/Ac or bales/Ac, or potatoes in hundredweight per acre. At least I haven’t seen anyone citing rice in barrels per acre since the late Oughts, everybody seems to have standardized on bushels per acre in rice, finally.)

BillD

Note that Figure 1 in this article only goes to 2008. Rain has been fine over recent years up until this year. How can we talk about the current drought and “up until the present” with data that only goes to 2008?

G. Karst

I was just about to write off, a fine stand of corn, due to 2 months of drought. Got 1.6 inches of rain last night. This will completely turn around this 7-8′ high stand. Corn is amazing when it gets what it needs – heat plus moisture. Well… it is grass, after all. GK

Vince Causey

It sure was a double whammy, to have the worst drought that devastated agriculture, right in the middle of the Great Depression.

David L. Hagen

PS For all geographically challenged persons,
don’t be confused by OH being east of IL.
From living in Indiana, IN should be east of IL (NOT OH).

more soylent green!

There was history before somebody clued me in to global warming? Seriously?

Jim G

Tom says:
July 26, 2012 at 7:04 am
Bushels per acre? Really???
“Not only has the rest of the world agreed to a single system of units, it’s also agreed to measure yields in weight per area, not volume per area.”
Not to argue what’s been agreed upon, but grain moisture content would bugger the numbers worse using weight rather than volume.

Gail Combs

Fred Bauer says:
July 26, 2012 at 6:29 am
How seriously should we take the University Nebraska-Lincoln if they can’t tell Indiana from Ohio?
___________________________
Yeah,
If this is what a college puts out, it looks like it is time to pull the plug on funding. And here I thought my opinion of US academia had already hit bottom.

Kelvin Vaughan

Looks like the earth moved for Americans! I would have thought it would have been to hot for that sort of thing in a heatwave, especially with the hot nights!

highflight56433

“Interesting that one of the key points – “The recent period of increasing heat is distinguished by a rise in extremely high nighttime temperatures.” – is a predicted AGW signature since greenhouse gases trap the heat.”
Really? Try atmosphereic compression due to desending air a result of high pressure.

Taphonomic

Fred Bauer says:
“How seriously should we take the University Nebraska-Lincoln if they can’t tell Indiana from Ohio?”
Latimer Alder says:
“Even from as far away as London, England I know that the state due east of Minnesota is Wisconsin. Not Wyoming as labelled on the map.”
Come on. It’s model output. What do you want, accuracy?

Chris

Bill Illis
The background color makes those charts very difficult to read. Or is there a way for me to make that adjustment?

tgmccoy

I think geography isn’t taught anymore from the looks of things.
My Mom’s family were/are cattlemen in NW Kansas have been
since 1870’s .1934 was their worst year ever. In the Pac NW in NE
Oregon , My Pop’s family also ranchers, 1934 was their worst
ever too. Anecdotal,but there was something about ’34 that was
extra-ordinary…

steveta_uk

The drought is getting in-depth coverage in the serious media as well:
http://www.theonion.com/articles/drought-bad,28908/

Bob

There has been a huge change in crop yields over time. New hybrids, chemicals, fertilizer applications, and other changes in farming techniques mean that there is no direct comparison for yields from the 30’s till today. If the average yield today dropped to what it was in a good year in the 30’s it would be a disaster.

pat

CAGW continually employ two public relations tricks, often used by politicians, to send their message. First release to a gullible press statistics regarding a matter that the local population would have no base knowledge about. Hence in New Zealand statistics on American droughts or in America stories on the Greenland ice sheet that are false but confirm a vague understanding of AGW. Secondly release highly localized anecdotal stories about the effects of CAGW that are too localized for broad academic derision. Such as a near seaside roadway being endangered by rising sea levels, even though that would be impossible in the given time frame.

Mike O

“Vince Causey says:
July 26, 2012 at 7:51 am
It sure was a double whammy, to have the worst drought that devastated agriculture, right in the middle of the Great Depression.”
Talk about history repeating itself …

Gail Combs

G. Karst says:
July 26, 2012 at 7:46 am
I was just about to write off, a fine stand of corn, due to 2 months of drought. Got 1.6 inches of rain last night. This will completely turn around this 7-8′ high stand. Corn is amazing when it gets what it needs – heat plus moisture. Well… it is grass, after all. GK
_____________________________
Yes, the corn down the street has just shot up with all the recent thunderstorms hitting mid NC. Farming has always been a crap shoot. Too early cold rain and the seed rots in the ground, then there is wilt, beetles, summer drought and early frost…
What really hit me about all this media attention to corn and crops are these three old articles combined with the paywall to the USDAs real data on crops.I can’t find that old 2007 link since the website has been reorganized, but there is Safeguarding America’s Agricultural Statistics and Special Tabulations A friend has a college age student who works for the USDA CropScape The kid said you could count the cows in fields.
To me the whole thing stinks of rigging the system in the food commodities casino. Create the illusion of scarcity and then bet the correct way to win big.

In summary, we have record low grain inventories globally as we move into a new crop year. We have demand growing strongly. Which means that going forward even small crop failures are going to drive grain prices to record levels. As an investor, we continue to find these long term trends…very attractive. Food shortfalls predicted: 2008 http://www.financialsense.com/fsu/editorials/dancy/2008/0104.html

“Recently there have been increased calls for the development of a U.S. or international grain reserve to provide priority access to food supplies for Humanitarian needs. The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) and the North American Export Grain Association (NAEGA) strongly advise against this concept. Stock reserves have a documented depressing effect on prices… and resulted in less aggressive market bidding for the grains. July 22, 2008 letter to President Bush http://www.naega.org/images/pdf/grain_reserves_for_food_aid.pdf

And here are the winners

…Bankers recognized a good system when they saw it, and dozens of speculative non-physical hedgers followed Goldman’s lead and joined the commodities index game, including Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Pimco, JP Morgan Chase, AIG, Bear Stearns, and Lehman Brothers, to name but a few purveyors of commodity index funds. The scene had been set for food inflation
…In 2003, the commodities futures market still totaled a sleepy $13 billion. But when the global financial crisis sent investors running scared in early 2008…
… money flowed, and the bankers were ready with a sparkling new casino of food derivatives.
… Hard red spring wheat, which usually trades in the $4 to $6 dollar range per 60-pound bushel, broke all previous records as the futures contract climbed into the teens and kept on going until it topped $25. ….In a recently published briefing note, Olivier De Schutter, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, concluded that in 2008 “a significant portion of the price spike was due to the emergence of a speculative bubble.”
What was happening to the grain markets was not the result of “speculation” in the traditional sense of buying low and selling high. Today, along with the cumulative index, the Standard & Poors GSCI provides 219 distinct index “tickers,” so investors can boot up their Bloomberg system and bet on everything from palladium to soybean oil, biofuels to feeder cattle. But the boom in new speculative opportunities in global grain, edible oil, and livestock markets has created a vicious cycle. The more the price of food commodities increases, the more money pours into the sector, and the higher prices rise. Indeed, from 2003 to 2008, the volume of index fund speculation increased by 1,900 percent….
http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/04/27/how_goldman_sachs_created_the_food_crisis?page=0,1

Added a different dimension to the whole article doesn’t it?

KevinM

Using potential yields here instead of projected actual yields. The lottery ticket in my wallet is potentially worth millions, but I’ll sell it to you for a hundred dollars.

In the category of ‘related’ –
Let there be Meat-less Mondays:
. . . USDA under fire for backing ‘meatless Mondays,’ linking ranching to climate change
Or not …
. . . Retracting a Plug for Meatless Mondays
(Words cannot express …)
.

SocialBlunder

“Really? Try atmosphereic compression due to desending air a result of high pressure.”
It sure would be interesting to find out why this didn’t happen before 1970.

Mike McMillan

Well, Ohio and Indiana are both east of Illinois, and all those east coast states look alike anyway. As for Wysconsin, Canadian provinces look alike, too.
As I recall, back in the 50’s, 100 bu/acre corn would buy the new Caddy. Several things have improved crop yields since the early 20th century, hybrid seed, dense planting, and CO2 fertilization. For soybeans, it looks like CO2 is the main culprit in the better yields.

philincalifornia

Gail Combs says in a quote:
July 26, 2012 at 9:18 am
… Hard red spring wheat, which usually trades in the $4 to $6 dollar range per 60-pound bushel, broke all previous records as the futures contract climbed into the teens and kept on going until it topped $25. ….In a recently published briefing note, Olivier De Schutter, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, concluded that in 2008 “a significant portion of the price spike was due to the emergence of a speculative bubble.”
=====================
Gail, I’m a little confused with your post here and your posts on the recent corn/bioethanol thread.
Surely, this is the real reason for the price spikes (across the board and not just corn), and not what you were arguing over there.
Apologies if I’m misrepresenting your comments. I haven’t been back there to read them all again.

crosspatch

Uhm, wouldn’t a year with “below average” rainfall be pretty typical? As in, aren’t a significant number of years “below average”? Why are they framing this report in such a way as it would lead the reader to expect average or above average rainfall and any amount “below average” is somehow a crisis? Below average should happen quite frequently. In fact, if it is in a place that sometimes sees extremely wet weather that can skew the average (such as in California), the annual precipitation might be “below average” more often than it is above average.

Larry Ledwick (hotrod)

Bill Illis says:
July 26, 2012 at 7:34 am
Monthly US wheat and corn prices going back to 1784 – Nominal first.
http://img33.imageshack.us/img33/7066/cornwheatprices1784.png
Real terms – adjusted for estimated CPI inflation.
http://img855.imageshack.us/img855/5601/realcornwheat1784.png

I agree with previous poster that background color choice is literally about the worst color you could choose for those images. It would be great if you could shift that to a more neutral color like a light gray where both colors would have good contrast to the background.
That said it is sort of inconvenient that the graphs show that corn and wheat in real terms are near the cheapest they have ever been in historical terms, and comparable to prices in the recent past when we had similar economic problems.
Those who are dwelling on the drought losses keep in mind that often for every area that is seeing a down turn in crop production there is another area somewhere that is seeing better than average conditions. Often the two more or less balance out on a world market.
Larry

Duster

Gail Combs’ cited observations about the effects of speculation by major banks and other purveyors of commodities index funds on commodity prices is probably far more important than any drought news. Unfortunately, it only indirectly relates to climate.

philincalifornia

Related link to the state of development of drought-resistant corn from yesterday’s BiofuelsDigest:
http://www.biofuelsdigest.com/bdigest/2012/07/25/yabba-dabba-rabba-dopsis-a-coming-revolution-in-crop-yields-during-times-of-drought/

highflight56433

The Columbia River provides irrigation to central Washington and still flows at the mouth of about 265,000 cubic feet per second (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbia_River ) .
The Mississippi River discharges at an annual average rate of between 200 and 700 thousand cubic feet per second (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mississippi_River).
Obviously, the irrigation used from the Columbia River is not draining the river dry. With all the water that flows into the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi drainage area I see not why there is not some investment to use more irrigation practices rather than all the bemoaning over drought. It seems the issue it not how much rain the Midwest receives, but when it receives it. There are things we can control and there are things we cannot control.
We subsidize farming; we have to eat; we depend on the Midwest for crops; make sure they don’t fail during the growing season, which is really the wet season.

gringojay

Brazil corn = $290/ ton (metric) at nation’s port, vs.USA corn = $345/ metric ton at Gulf of Mexico port & biggest pork producer Smithfield Foods early this week announced they will import Brazilian corn. Brazil’s projection is for 70 million metric tons of corn this year.
Bushel calculations always annoyed me to do conversions too. For those who care: Corn’s September Futures Trading a week ago was $8.28 &3/4 a bushel this week was $7.80 &1/2.

Crispin in Waterloo

@SocialBlunder
“Interesting that one of the key points – “The recent period of increasing heat is distinguished by a rise in extremely high nighttime temperatures.” – is a predicted AGW signature since greenhouse gases trap the heat.”
If you want such a general statement to be taken seriously you gotta put some numbers on it. The anticipated AGW signature is how much? And this is discernable from natural variation by which process? And the ‘extremely high nighttime temperatures’ are how much higher?
‘Prediction’ implies falsification scenarios. What exactly is the falsification scenario for AGW? How many years of cooling would suffice?
According to several warmist visitors to this blog, greenhouse gases don’t ‘trap the heat’ quite the way they used to, apparently. The goal posts have been moved. You should keep up. We were told for years that they trap the heat at 8-12km altitude in the tropics and there would be a definitive hotspot in the troposphere that is embarassingly missing.
First GHG’s do not ‘trap heat’ they absorb and re-radiate it with water being by far the most efficient and plentiful member of that family. Maybe there is an increase in atmospheric water vapour at night… oh wait, ‘it’s a drought’.
Is the hot spot perhaps secretly appearing at night and keeping temperatures up? There is no meaningful change in the daytime highs in summer – did you know that? Have you looked at the records at the National Weather Service? You can search by season and notice the continental 30 year cooling trend if you want.

Crispin in Waterloo

RE: “Speculative opportunities in food”
Great – Goldmann Sachs ‘goes farming’. Farming money that is, at the expense of the farmer and the public. Is anyone surprised? Maybe they can corner the corn market and run the price up to triple the present number. Just think of the profits they could make! If they took a global view they could pry the last red cent from the bony hands of every (still) living human soul! There is no limit to the profits that could be made by rampant speculation and monopoly control of the food sector. How is it that this opportunity was missed before? Oh, I remember: it was illegal!

Power Grab

They’ve corrected the state labels on the original article.
And just when I was going to blame it on the ignorance of a geeky grad assistant!

erik sloneker

“The reality check is: Even with the bad news of reduced yields of regular corn at 22-42 bu/ac below average, and trrigated corn at 2-9 bu/ac below average, 2012 Nebraska corn yields are still forecasted to be 20-40 times the 1934 Nebraska corn yields.”
This statement is misleading and has less to do with the weather than with the new super-hybrids that are very drought resistant, and with modern farming techniques.
I live, work and travel frequently across Central and Southern Illinois and this year is as bad or worse than 1988. Most farmers are expecting a 70% drop in yields, and in the hardest hit areas, many have already plowed their fields under (the cost to harvest exceeds the expected yield revenue).
Were it not for huge advancements in hybridization it’s likely we would have total crop failure across at least half of the corn belt.

BillD

It’s usually rather dry in the midwest in July and August. The problem this year is that it was exceptionally dry in May and June and not that wet in April. With much warmer weather in spring, it will be interesting to see if farmers will start planting corn in late March instread of late April/early May. Of course, there has also been an increase in years with spring flooding.

Dave

Map appears to be fixed on the source site.

manicbeancounter

When you start using change in food prices as a measure, or impact costs, then the impacts of extreme weather will seem worse in the past. The reasons are
1. Farmers are more adaptable and have greater investment in irrigation than in the past.
2. Crops are more resilient to extremes, and both pest control and fertilisers are far better than in the past.
3. Impact on food prices is less as the food market has shifted from local to global and the diet has become more varied. In the early 1970s in Britain there was a major crisis when the potato crop failed due to a drought. Now supplies of potatoes can be imported, and people eat far more rice and pasta.
This is important for policy. If the climate does get more extreme (for which there is little or no hard evidence), the best way to offset the hardship in the poorest countries is economic development. Policies to alleviate global warming by restraining growth in fossil fuel consumption (and thus economic growth), are likely to make the impacts of global warming on the poorest greater than no policy at all. This is assuming that the bigger developing nations do little or nothing to curb their emissions.