Crop estimates yield some surprises

usdaThe 2018 corn and soybean yield and production estimates are in from the USDA, and the top Virginia county for soybean yields in 2018 was Frederick County, with an average of 55.2 bushels an acre.

That’s the same Frederick County in the mountains of Northern Virginia that’s home to a major part of the state’s apple industry. None of the Old Dominion’s traditional grain and soybean powerhouse counties in Eastern and Southeast Virginia were among the top five for soybean yields in 2018.

What’s going on? Was the rainy weather last year really that bad?

Not so fast, said Robert Harper, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation grain marketing manager. Statistics can be misleading if you don’t know the full context. While he gave full credit to the soybean growers of Frederick County, he noted that the USDA survey sample size was quite small.

“As we look at Frederick County, there were 1,700 acres of soybeans grown there last year,” Harper said. “But we have other counties with 10,000 to 30,000 acres of soybeans. You just have to take those numbers with a grain of salt. Maybe there were less than 10 producers in a small area that hit the weather just right and had a lot less variability in the soil type. It was just a smaller sample size, and it was easier for the yields to get bigger.”

The top five localities for corn yields in the Old Dominion in 2018 were Northampton County with an average of 162.2 bushels an acre, followed by Culpeper County, Chesapeake, Shenandoah County and Frederick. The top four counties for soybean yields behind Frederick were Rockingham, Culpeper, Orange and Madison.

Harper noted that 2018 was actually a good year for corn and soybean farmers statewide, and many broke their own individual yield records thanks to abundant rainfall. Corn yields averaged 140 bushels an acre and soybean yields came in at 43 bushels an acre, only one bushel less than in 2017, a record year.

“The reality is, as long as it took to get the soybeans planted in 2018 because of wet conditions, and as long as it took to bring that harvest in because of field conditions and quality issues, it’s remarkable that we were only 1 bushel less per acre last year than in 2017,” Harper said. “Absolutely remarkable.”

Going into the 2019 growing season, grain farmers are hoping the weather dries up soon but that timely rains continue, Harper added. The state’s winter wheat crop already has suffered significant damage from last winter’s excess moisture.

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