SAVOY — Samplings from Champaign County corn fields indicate the county's yield average may be 30 percent lower than last year.
Dozens of people combed corn fields across the county Wednesday as part of Premier Cooperative's crop survey. Some were pleasantly surprised by what they found. Others were utterly dismayed.
On average, the surveyors calculated an average yield of 115.9 bushels per acre, down from last year's average of 164.4 bushels per acre.
But yields ranged widely from township to township — and even within fields.
The best yields appeared to be in the St. Joseph region, which was blessed with a couple heavy rains early in the season. The estimated yield there was 193 bushels per acre — actually up from 168 bushels per acre a year ago.
Roger Miller, Premier's chief executive officer, noted that since the estimates are averages, some farmers in the St. Joseph area could get 200-bushel yields.
"There are going to be some happy farmers in that area," he said.
The worst yields appeared to be in Champaign County's northernmost tier and in southern Ford County. Surveyors in the Dewey and Elliott areas both estimated 50-bushel yields, and the yield average in the Gifford area was 64 bushels.
That's a far cry from last year, when Dewey fields produced 186 bushels per acre and Gifford fields produced 182.
"They didn't get rain, and it shows," Miller said.
This year's drought meant some areas of the county got only one-third to one-half the rainfall they got during the same period in 2011.
Last year, the typical range of rainfall in Champaign County for the first seven months of the year was 13 to 24 inches.
This year, Ivesdale, Dewey and the Vermilion County community of Jamaica got fewer than 8 inches of rain, while Sadorus, Sidney and Thomasboro got rains approximating 11 inches.
Surveyors brought in dozens of ears from each of the county's four quadrants. The southern quadrants tended to produce larger and more uniform ears, while the northwest quadrant had several samples that were dinky. Some ears were only 1 1/2 inches long and a half-inch in diameter, with no kernels developed.
Brent Carmien of Philo, who was part of the team that surveyed Sidney and St. Joseph fields, said the crop looked "better than we expected" — but with a lot of variation.
Yields often varied by 30 to 40 bushels within a field, his team said.
"You could have walked 24 rows over and gotten totally different results," said Chris Conerty of rural Urbana.
Ken Hieser, who lives north of Fisher, said he was pleasantly surprised that "within 7 to 8 miles of where I live, it was that good. What I see in my fields is not good."
Joel Shields, who farms in the Dewey-Fisher and Elliott areas with his dad, Curt, said the farther north they went, the worse the results were.
"It all boiled down to rain," he said.
Curt Shields said on a few occasions this year, he watched storms on radar as they approached from the west, dissipated on hitting the county line, then started up again as they moved into Vermilion County.
John Flavin, who checked crops in the Champaign County's southwest corner, said he was surprised by results on the high end.
The overall average for the Ivesdale area was 130 bushels, but yield estimates for fields there ranged from 48 to 179 bushels, he said.
Roger Miller — who farms southeast of Thomasboro and has the same name as the cooperative's CEO — found disturbing results in fields he scouted near Gifford.
Out of a population of 34,000 plants per acre, Miller said only about 20,000 plants had harvestable ears. Some fields had as few as 7,000 plants per acre with harvestable ears, he said.
No surveys were done of soybean fields, which are in a critical stage.
"Beans are really in trouble if we don't get rain," the Premier Cooperative CEO said.