Quantifying How Bad 2012 Really Is
This article was originally published on August 13, 2012 and expired on August 20, 2012. It is provided here for archival purposes and may contain dated information.
Area residents have "heard" how bad the 2012 growing season has been, and they probably have a "gut feeling" that 2012 is "about as bad as it gets." However, numbers always have a way of quantifying what is heard and what is felt. So how bad has 2012 been? The best way to understand the intensity of the 2012 drought is to look at crop reports from the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). NASS publishes a Crop Progress report each Monday.
The percentage of the soybean crop rated poor to very poor has increased 7 to 8 percent every two weeks for the last month. In early July, NASS rated 42 percent of the bean crop in Illinois as being poor to very poor. As of August 6, NASS rated 57 percent of the bean crop as being poor to very poor. How does that compare to 2011? In 2011, about that same percentage of the bean crop was rated fair to good. The 2012 story is much worse when compared to 1988. In early August of 1988, only about a quarter of the bean crop was rated poor to very poor – a rating that held rather steady thereafter. As noted earlier, better than twice that amount is rated poor to very poor in 2012.
Corn has had an even more difficult walk in 2012. Growers openly talk about yield estimates in the low double digits, yield estimates in the single digits, and fields that have been zeroed out entirely where 150 to 170 bushels is the norm. The NASS Crop Progress reports shout out that same story. Over the last six weeks, the percentage of Illinois's corn crop rated poor to very poor has increased 15 to 20 percent every two weeks. In late June, just over 20 percent of the corn crop was rated poor to very poor. Illinois entered August, 2012 with almost three-quarters of the corn crop rated poor to very poor. Once again, that same percentage was rated fair to good in 2011. The disaster that was 1988 fails to compare to the yield catastrophe we currently encounter. In 1988, a gut-wrenching half of the crop was rated poor to very poor. Illinois growers entered August, 2012 with a poor to very poor rating that was 20 percentage points worse than what we encountered a quarter of a century ago. The percentage of the crop that is dented also describes the exceptional stress and unfathomable yield hit that the 2012 corn crop has taken. Almost 40 percent of the corn crop was dented as Illinois moved from July to August. In the last five years, the "percent dented" estimate only reached a high of 13 percent and many years an estimate was not even provided because the crop was still filling kernels. In other words, a substantial portion of Illinois' corn crop (perhaps as much as a third) simply shut down by the end of July.
Pasture ratings provide the final set of staggering numbers, numbers that truly do quantify how disastrous 2012 has been for agricultural production. Over the past two months, when plotted on a graph, the percentage of pasture rated poor to very poor steadily increases forming a 40 to 45 degree line. In other words, each week has brought roughly a 8 to 10 percentage point decrease in the pasture rating. In mid-June, 21 percent of Illinois pasture was rated poor to very poor. As of August, 2012, 95 percent of Illinois pasture was rated as being in poor to very poor condition.
All the noted ratings make a very important point - The 2012 growing season is, as everyone now agrees, worse than 1988 from a production standpoint. When "more seasoned" growers tell us that this season remind them of 1936 – despite the lack of records, they are probably right. Illinois is seeing a growing season that likes of which it has not seen for more than 75 years.
Pull date: August 20, 2012