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Feedback from the Field Roundup: Week Ending September 13, 2020

Harvest in sight across the Midwest and Plains.

With many farmers in the Farm Futures’ Feedback from the Fields (FFTF) survey reporting mostly mature corn and soybean crops, harvest is in everyone’s sight this week. But growing conditions across the country remain varied as harvest creeps up.

Corn conditions fell 1% from a week ago to 60% good to excellent in yesterday’s Crop Progress report. Despite cooler temperatures and rainfall late last week that alleviated some soil moisture concerns, a frost early in the week in the Upper Midwest led ratings lower.  “Hard frost on Tuesday and Wednesday morning - 24 degrees,” a North Dakota reader reported.

Reports of wind damage in Iowa from the August 10 derecho wind storm continued to plague farmers before harvest. “Derecho either leaned the corn or kinked the majority of it below the ear,” an Eastern Iowa farmer noted. “I will try to harvest when conditions permit,” echoed another Iowa reader.

The corn crop continues to mature at a rapid pace due to heat stress inflicted during pollination during August. As of September 13, 89% of U.S. corn had reached the dented stage, 7% ahead of the five-year average. About 41% of the nation’s corn crop had reached maturity, up 16% from a week ago and 9% higher than the five-year average.

But growers in the Eastern Corn Belt reported good crops over the past week. A Michigan farmer reported corn conditions to be “much better than last year.” And an Indiana corn grower, “wouldn’t trade [the corn crop] with anybody.”

But a little farther east in Ohio and Pennsylvania, growers are singing a different tune. “Pollination was negatively affected by dry conditions,” said a Pennsylvania farmer. An Ohio grower observed, “variable ear size throughout fields.”

Yesterday’s Crop Progress report marked the first time in the season USDA reported on corn harvesting progress. About 5% of U.S. corn had been harvested as of Sunday, in line with the five-year average. Texas (67%) and North Carolina (47%) lead harvest paces in the early stages of the season. Newswires also reported combines had started rolling in areas of Ohio where corn had been planted early.

Yield estimates will soon be flooding newsfeeds from the combines. USDA reduced the 2020 yield forecast to 178.5 bushels per acre, but damages following extreme weather events will not be fully quantified until bins are filled. “Heat and drought probably took 20% of yields,” an Iowa farmer pointed out, suggesting 2020 may be filled with more surprises to come.

Soybean yield forecasts continue to drop

Soybeans suffered an early frost last week worse than corn, as ratings fell 2% to 63% good to excellent for the week ending September 13. FFTF respondents in the Upper Midwest echoed USDA’s report of falling conditions with one North Dakota farmer lamenting soybean yields, “were excellent before the frost.”

Soy plants across the country continued to mature at a rapid pace, with 37% of beans dropping leaves, up 17% from a week ago ahead of the five-year average of 31%.

Graphic showing where Feedback From the Field

Rains and cooler temperatures across the Midwest late last week may have been too little, too late for soybean yields. “We received rains the last three days that will help beans that are still green, but dry weather for the last five weeks really took a toll,” an Iowa farmer estimated. “I’m guessing at least a third of the yield is gone.” An Ohio farmer continued to miss the rains and grew concerned about soil moisture levels as harvest looms on the horizon. “Not enough rain to finish,” the farmer said.

With harvest rapidly approaching, farmers in the path of derecho windstorm damage are struggling to estimate harvest progress. “It’s unknown what percentage of the bean stem will be below the sickle height since the lower stem is leaning severely as a result of the derecho,” fretted an Iowa farmer.

Spring wheat harvest limps to a close

Spring wheat harvest finally caught up with the five-year average last week, thanks to warm and dry weather following the Labor Day holiday. As of September 13, spring wheat harvest for 2020 was 92% complete, up 10% from the previous week.

FFTF survey respondents struggled amid hail damage in North Dakota and a miserable start to planting season. “Too wet all year,” a North Dakota farmer said, reporting a mere 55 bushels per acre in spring wheat yields. “Disappointing yields and quality,” echoed a Minnesota grower.

Light rain and cooler temperatures are forecast across the Pacific Northwest and Northern Plains this week, which could slow harvesting progress, particularly in Washington and North Dakota where harvest is 87% and 90% complete, respectively.

Winter wheat plantings rose 5% from a week ago to 10% complete as of Sunday. Dry weather in Washington (44%) and Colorado (30%) paved the way for winter wheat planting progress that is already 2% ahead of the five-year average.

Wild weather events continue

Last week’s rains and cooler temperatures provided the most relief to pasture ground across the U.S. last week. Good to excellent ratings for pasture and rangeland in the U.S. rose 2% from the previous week to 24% as of September 13.

Pastures in the West, where drought and wildfires continue to run rampant and the bulk of the nation’s cattle supply subsists, remain in the poorest conditions, according to the University of Nebraska Drought Monitor. Over 57% of land in the U.S. is currently experiencing either dry or drought conditions, down fractionally from a week ago.

Drought Monitor

Hurricane Sally made landfall this morning on the U.S. Gulf coast. Residents from Louisiana to Alabama have been told by local weather officials to prepare for “life-threatening floods.” Maximum wind speeds clocked in at 85 mph this morning. And yesterday afternoon, the U.S. Coast Guard closed the Mississippi River to both north and southbound vessels at Mile Marker 167.5, about halfway between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

According to the Soy Transportation Coalition, the lower Mississippi River facilitated 60% of U.S. soy exports, 57% of corn exports, and 16% of wheat exports in 2019. The slow-moving and strengthening trajectory of the storm could leave significant damage in its wake to export terminals and refineries along the Gulf Coast, leaving basis opportunities at Midwestern river terminals in jeopardy as peak harvest activity approaches.

Unseasonably warm temperatures will continue to persist across the drought-stressed Western U.S. next week, according to NOAA’s 6 to 10-day outlook. The probability of above average temperatures west of the Mississippi River ranges between 40% - 80% between September 21 – 25. Warm temperatures will continue to blanket over two-thirds of the U.S. by late next week.

6-10 day. outlook temperature probability

After weeks of hot and dry weather stalling pollination progress, farmers will finally be able to take advantage of dry weather as harvest progresses. Below normal levels of rainfall have a 33% - 50% likelihood early next week across the entire Midwest and Plains (except in my home state of Colorado – thankfully!) and will dry out even more later in the week. While the forecast does not bode well for replenishing soil moisture levels, it will give farmers a chance to get a fast start to harvest season.

6-10 day precipitation probability

Rains from Hurricane Sally are not currently expected to move up the Mississippi River very quickly this week – if at all. A high-pressure system will likely push rains further into the Southeast with few chances of precipitation remaining in the Midwest and Plains this week.

Follow along with the season:

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