LE MARS, Iowa | As he drives through the countryside, Plymouth County farmer Mike Jaminet sees the results of near-perfect weather conditions the tri-state region has basked in this year.
"Everything is nice and green," said Jaminet, who raises corn and soybeans near Le Mars. "I don't know if we're going to have a true bumper crop, but it's going to be a really good crop the way things are looking right now."
Timely rains and moderate temperatures have combined to create the best growing conditions in Siouxland in years.
Beautiful weather in Midwest states like Iowa and Nebraska led the U.S. Department of Agriculture last week to predict a record-breaking harvest this fall -- 14 billion bushels of corn and 3.8 billion bushels of soybeans nationwide. Estimated yields of 167 bushels of corn per acre and 45.4 bushels of beans per acre also would be all-time highs.
The USDA expects Iowa to maintain its title as the nation's top corn-producing state with a record harvest of 2.44 billion bushels, or 185 bushels per acre, three bushels higher than the previous high in 2009. Iowa is also forecast to be the second-highest soybean-producing state, harvesting 502 million bushels of the oilseed, or 50 bushels per acre.
Nebraska is forecast to grow 1.5 billion bushels of corn -- third most in the nation -- and 173 bushels per acre, and a record 278 million bushels of soybeans, or 52 bushels per acre.
South Dakota's corn crop is forecast to be 765 million bushels, or 139 bushels per acre. The state is expected to grow 196 million bushels of soybeans -- a record high -- and 40 bushels per acre.
Ed Lammers, who farms in northeast Nebraska near Hartington, said his bean fields look so good that he was surprised the USDA estimates didn't come in higher. His bean plants have plenty of pods on the plants and nodes on the roots.
"It's the best I've seen in my 30 years being involved in agriculture," said Lammers, who is vice chairman of the Nebraska Soybean Board.
He is hoping for 75 to 80 bushels per acre on his irrigated land and 55 to 60 bushels per acre on dry ground.
3 TIMES THE AMOUNT OF RAIN
In Plymouth County, home to some of the richest soil in Iowa, Jaminet said he could see 50-plus bushels of beans per acre, and around 190 bushels of corn per acre. That would be up about 10 percent from an average year, he said.
Jaminet said his bountiful sweet corn crop, which he is now harvesting, is a harbinger of things to come this fall.
"It was probably the best sweet corn crop that I have had in the past 10 years," he said. "The ears are big, they're juicy and filled out to the end. That's what you like to see."
Crop conditions in Iowa are better than the 18 states as a whole that combine to grow 91 percent of the U.S. corn and soybean crops, according to another USDA report released last week. As of Aug. 1, 76 percent of Iowa's field corn acres were rated good to excellent, 3 percent above the national average. Seventy-five percent of the state's soybeans were considered good or excellent, 5 percent higher than the overall average.
While tornadoes, high winds, flooding or hail has wiped out or severely damaged pockets of Siouxland's crops, the weather has mostly cooperated this season.
As much as three times the normal amount of rain has fallen in the past three months in parts of the tri-state region.
"The most recent rainfall was really a big bonus and put a positive spin on what the remainder of the season will look like," said Joel DeJong, an Iowa State University Extension agronomist based in Le Mars.
QUESTIONS REMAIN ABOUT FALL CROP
In the first week of August, as much as 2 to 4 inches of rain fell on large swaths of the 10 Northwest Iowa counties DeJong serves.
At the same time, the region has mostly avoided the super hot weather that typically stresses corn as it matures.
"We've only had a couple of 90 degrees days so far," DeJong said.
Keith Jarvi, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension crop specialist for the Northeast Nebraska counties of Dakota, Dixon and Thurston counties, noted there also have been few reports of late-season problems with insect or disease in fields.
Jarvi and DeJong cautioned the jury is still out on the size of this fall's crop.
"We still have 40 days left to fill those kernels and kernel size makes a big difference," DeJong said. "As long as we can get close to average temperatures, I think we're going to be okay."
A bumper crop would raise some farm incomes, while also lowering the price of feed for livestock producers. The abundant supply of corn and soybeans and the forecast for even more on the way this fall have sent prices for the commodities catapulting to a four-year low.
Prices for December delivery of corn hit their lowest since 2010 last week, rebounding slightly to about $3.74 a bushel Thursday.
Karl Setzer of MaxYield Cooperative in West Bend, Iowa, said the markets priced in big corn and soybean crops. Traders had been anticipating an average corn yield of 170 bushels per acre prior to the USDA expectations report Tuesday.
"I really don't see where we can pressure this market a lot more than where we've been, given all the data we have right now," Setzer said. "In the short time, in Iowa, and throughout the Midwest, I don't see the market getting a lot better, but I don't see it getting much worse."
Lincoln Journal-Star reporter Nicholas Bergin contributed to this story.