If you take a drive through the gravel roads of rural Iowa, as we did this past weekend, you'll find it striking just how much chaos the June inflicted. A fallow field on one side of the road tells part of the story. Farmers planted on their usual schedule, watched their nascent crop get washed out by floods. Those who planted again saw the floods return, washing out another unborn crop. Many decided not to plant a third time.
On the other side of the road, though, you might see a vibrant green and yellow field, displaying the tenacity of Iowan farmers who planted yet a third time. The wet soil coupled with weather since the floods has been nearly ideal for growing corn. Freshly shucked, the corn is sweet and hearty.
Tomorrow the Department of Agriculture releases what some are describing as "the most anticipated crop report of the year." This is the Dark Knight of crop reports, on which fortunes will be made and broken. The futures have been all over the place, rising to $7 a bushel and falling, more recently, to $5 a bushel.
The trade turns on a few billion bushels. Last year, following the height of the ethanol corn craze, Midwest farmers reaped a record harvest of over 13 billion bushels. When prices dropped precipitously because of the huge supply bulge, many farmers felt they had been stung by markets. Even before the flooding, estimates of the corn crop were down to 12.2 billion bushels. A recent survey of grain analysts by Dow Jones Newswires predicts a crop of 11.94 billion bushels.
That's probably an overestimate, according to our informal survey of Iowans. Some estimate that the actual crop may come in below 11 billion bushels. Of course, we conducted our survey by asking a few questions of farmers at the Iowa State Fair, and those who answered our questions had been drinking beer and eating corn-dogs all day.
Who knows what corn dogs do to a farmers judgment. What's more, we weren't entirely sure the farmers weren't just having fun with us. It wouldn't be the first time a kid from the city had the corn husks pulled over his eyes by country folk.
One local saying in Iowa might indicate why predicting these things is tricky. "What happens in the cornfield," a popular t-shirt reads, "stays in the cornfield."