Renewable Farming

As a well-worn ag journalist, I’m enthused at Pro Farmer’s enhanced Crop Tour coverage

Streaming video technology and a wide range of sponsors have equipped Professional Farmers of America editors to provide live information through the annual Pro Farmer Crop Tour. Here’s how you can join the action online.

August 18, 2020   By Jerry Carlson — When I retired from Pro Farmer almost 20 years ago, I was already a used journalist with a flat depreciation schedule. Chip Flory and other Pro Farmer editors like Brian Grete had attracted a nationwide following to the annual Midwest Crop Tour. It has drawn more attention and delivered more information each year since. 

The 2020 tour August 17-20 “went virtual” this year — free to online viewers, with streaming updates each evening. You can see and hear the daily updates at 7:00 p.m. central time. Visit this link to sign up:

The tour schedule — and another route to sign up — is at this link.


We’ll be especially interested in crop scouts’ findings the evening of Aug. 19, as they cross Iowa and evaluate crop damage from last week’s derecho winds. Illinois will also be covered in the August 19 evening summary.

August 20 brings the wrap-up report including final Iowa and Minnesota results. Many of the scouts are farmers or seed corn company specialists, so they gather data based on personal experience as well as statistical counting of corn yield and soybean pods. 

As Pro Farmer puts it, “Results from the Crop Tour have a big impact on Pro Farmer’s Annual Crop Production Estimate released in Friday’s weekly newsletter. But, observations from the Crop Tour can be just as important as the data itself.”

Farm Journal’s AgPro reports that Iowa Ag Secretary Mike Naig reviewed satellite data to estimate that the 36 hardest-hit Iowa counties saw the greatest impact on 3.57 million acres of corn and 2.5 million acres of soybeans. Farmer on the tour will probably express opinions of how much of the downed corn can be salvaged.

One encouraging sidelight of the derecho disaster is how today’s information technology — internet-based communication, satellite data and smartphone social media — accelerates analysis of major catastrophes like the derecho winds.

Fifty years ago when I was a Farm Journal editor, such instant information was barely envisioned. Few farmers today recall 1970’s explosive epidemic of southern corn leaf blight. It destroyed 15% of the North American corn crop, a loss of about $10 billion in today’s dollars. On the memorable Monday morning when state crop disease scientists confirmed the epidemic, I had just returned to Philadelphia after closing the current month’s issue of Farm Journal at the R. R. Donnelley press in Chicago. It would be another month before Farm Journal’s next issue. Our crops editor, Ralph Wennblom, scrambled to start a weekly newsletter to cover the disaster.

Ironically, I was then in the midst of researching a Master’s thesis to evaluate how reporters and editors could use computer terminals to write and deliver “instant information.” I’d found one of the first cathode ray tubes (CRT) which presented capital and lower-case letters on the screen. I asked Farm Journal editors to write articles on this computer terminal, using the arrow keys to make corrections. (The mouse hadn’t been discovered.)

Most of the editors winced at my request. They felt it wasn’t real “copy” unless they whacked it out on paper using their manual Royal typewriters with faded ribbons. Even an IBM electric typewriter was for secretaries, not pro editors.

My thesis predicted that writing on the screen, and electronic transmission of information, would prove widespread in 10 years. The thesis moldered in the archives at Iowa State. In 1972, I moved to Iowa to co-found Professional Farmers of America. Our upstart staff, led by Merrill Oster, used high-speed electronic typesetting and weekly first-class mail to speed information to farmers. That was the genesis of the Pro Farmer reports you see today on your smartphone, which you can watch while chilling in your air-conditioned, GPS-controlled combine cab.

It’s gratifying to look out on today’s information technology and see that anyone with a smartphone can capture videos and relay the images and text and voice reports instantly, world-wide. Naturally the stream contains bursts of instant disinformation too. But instant feedback from viewers and readers is corrective, providing checks and balances on hasty, partially informed reports.

As our family-based Renewble Farming firm manages this site, I’ve found that farmers are our best source of accurate, timely information and photos, direct from the field.

Bottom line: A broader swath of the public, especially farmers, can learn a clearer picture of the truth sooner than ever before.

Update Aug. 21:  Here are Pro Farmer’s final corn and soybean production estimates:

Pro Farmer national corn and soybean crop estimates:

  • Corn: 14.820 billion bu.; Average yield of 177.5 bu. per acre
    • +/- 1% = 14.968 billion bu. to 14.672 billion bu.; 179.3 bu. to 175.7 bu. per acre
  • Soybeans: 4.362 billion bu.; Average yield of 52.5 bu. per acre
    • +/- 2% = 4.449 billion bu. to 4.275 billion bu.; 53.6 bu. to 51.5 bu. per acre

For the complete Pro Farmer report, here’s the link.