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USDA crop progress: Corn quality drops slightly

venturecx/Thinkstock Green corn not yet tasseled.
Soybean crop condition holds steady; winter wheat harvest marches on.

The latest USDA Crop Progress report, out June 25, has quite a bit of information to unpack for corn, soybeans, wheat and other key crops – including crop quality, harvest pace and more.

The agency rates 77% of the 2018 U.S. corn crop in good-to-excellent condition, down from 78% a week ago. Trade analysts anticipated the move in their own estimates, released earlier Monday. Even so, this year’s corn crop is off to one of the highest-quality starts on record. Of the top 18 corn-producing states, only two – Missouri and Texas – have fewer than half of their crop rated good to excellent, according to USDA.

This year’s corn crop is still very capable of producing historically high yields, according to Farm Futures senior grain market analyst Bryce Knorr.

“While nationwide corn conditions remain strong historically, yield potential dropped three-quarters of a bushel per acre according to our models based on state and national ratings,” he says. “Condition assessment by USDA’s Crop Progress report accounts for just over half the variation in corn yields historically, so production could still turn out either very good or below average. If current ratings hold, yields of 180 bushels or better per acre are possible.”

Physiologically, USDA reports that 5% of the nation’s corn crop is now silking, compared to 4% in 2017 and a five-year average of 3%. As expected, southern states such as North Carolina (47%), Tennessee (33%) and Texas (57%) lead the early charge.

For soybeans, USDA reports that 95% of the crop is now emerged, up from 90% the week prior and slightly ahead of 2017’s pace (93%) as well as the five-year average (89%). Four states are at 98% emerged or greater, with Kentucky (82%) North Carolina (78%) and Tennessee (81%) having the furthest progress yet to make.

Twelve percent of U.S. soybeans are now blooming, moderately ahead of 2017’s pace of 8% and the five-year average of 5%.

USDA did not change its quality assessment of the 2018 U.S. soybean crop, still at 73% in good-to-excellent condition. Variability in soybean quality is wider than it is in corn, but only Missouri (45%) is the only major production state with less than 50% of its crop in good-to-excellent condition.

“Nationwide soybean ratings reported by USDA were steady, but our state-by-state analysis showed a small pullback in yield potential, amounting to around a tenth of a bushel per acre,” Knorr says. “Ratings remain strong, suggesting potential for yields of 51.5 bpa if conditions hold through the growing season.”

But Knorr warns that soybean yields are notoriously difficult to predict early, and the ratings don’t correlate well with actual yields until much closer to harvest.

Meantime, spring wheat condition retreats slightly, according to USDA – from 78% in good-to-excellent condition the prior week to 77%. That’s still significantly higher than the start to the 2017 season, when only 40% of the crop was rated good to excellent this time last year.

Harvest progress marches on for the 2017/18 U.S. winter wheat crop, reaching 41% last week – up from 27% the prior week, and pacing faster than 2017’s 39% and the five-year average of 33%. Arkansas (99%) and Oklahoma (92%) are already near the finish line.

USDA docked the embattled crop’s quality again, however, moving it from 39% good to excellent down to 37%. Another 29% of the crop is rated fair, with the remaining 34% rated poor or very poor.

“Both winter and spring wheat ratings slipped, with heavy rains hurting production in Kansas,” Knorr says. “Overall winter wheat potential slipped around a quarter of a bushel per acre, with deterioration seen along the I-70 corridor. Spring wheat potential lost around four-tenths of a bushel per acre after conditions fell in North Dakota.”

Sorghum quality, in contrast, is up from the prior week’s rating of 54% in good-to-excellent condition to 56%. So far, 20% of the crop is headed, which is right in line with 2017’s pace of 20% and the five-year average of 21%.


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