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Corn harvest progress soars ahead of rains, snow.

Jacqueline Holland, Grain market analyst

October 20, 2020

8 Min Read
North Carolina corn crop bright spot 2013

Corn harvesting rates soared in yesterday’s Crop Progress report from USDA. Dry and clear conditions for the October 12 -18 reporting week enabled the last of the nation’s corn crop to reach its final stage of maturity, with USDA reporting 97% of the crop matured in yesterday’s weekly update, up 3% from a week ago and another 3% ahead of the five-year average. Yesterday’s report marks the last week of the season USDA will report on crop maturity.

Last week’s clear weather conditions enabled farmers to harvest another 19% of the 2020 corn crop, with harvest progress at 60% complete as of Sunday. As expected, the week’s completion total pulled away from the five-year average of 43% and soared ahead of average trade estimates of 57% for the week.

“First time in 41 years I had to combine my corn cross ways,” a Northeastern Iowa farmer said, “because it was tangle so bad in one field.” Just a few miles to the west, another local farmer reported yields of “170 bpa.” But Iowa farmers continue to barrel through corn harvest despite the obstacles due to the derecho wind damage. Iowa’s crop was 65% harvested as of Sunday, significantly ahead of 29% for the five-year average.

Winter storms in the Northern Plains and Upper Mississippi River Valley will likely curb harvest progress in addition to rain showers in the Eastern Corn Belt this week. Crop conditions stabilized at 61% good to excellent this week for the second week in a row in the agency’s final week of surveying corn conditions.

Damage estimates from a turbulent last leg of crop development continue to roll in from growers. Dry conditions in northern Ohio over the growing season prompted one farmer to compare 2020 yields to those of the 1988 drought. “This is going to be the poorest corn crop since 1988,” the grower lamented. “[Corn] yields [are] down 30%,” an Eastern Iowa farmer reported.

Heat stress in the High Plains was particularly evident for one Southeastern Colorado grower. “Very strong wind Sunday really took a toll on the last pivot of corn,” the grower noted. This analyst can verify those wind speeds – as well as the heavy toll they took on local wildfires in addition to the corn crop.

“In 46 years of farming,” the producer continued, “we ran out of canal water in August. No rain at all to help finish the crop. I feel good that I had at least a crop to harvest. Dry land farmers had little to nothing.”

But there was some positive news from farmer respondents. “Looks really good,” a Southeastern Indiana farmer commented of the area’s corn crop. And in upstate New York, excellent crop conditions were producing “great test weights” according to a local corn producer.

Soybeans close in on harvest completion

With 97% of all U.S. soybean plants dropping leaves, the soybean crop has finally reached its final stage of maturity, rising 4% from last week’s Crop Progress report and 2% higher than the five-year average.

Another week of largely clear weather allowed soybean harvest progress to advance 14% to 75% complete for the week ending October 18. Harvest progress remains 17% ahead of the five-year average – slightly smaller than last week but still a substantial margin, nonetheless.

Feedback from the Field

Winter weather conditions in the Northern Plains and Upper Mississippi Valley are likely to have less of an impact on soybean harvest than that of corn. Harvest in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota is 92%, 90%, and 96% complete, respectively, for the year. The crop in Wisconsin likely stands to bear the highest risk in this week’s weather events with only 72% of the crop harvested.

But regardless, harvest is moving at breakneck speeds and the weekend’s weather events should have less impact on yields this year than last. The five-year average for harvest during the same time period in Wisconsin is 47% complete. And even with states in the Eastern Corn Belt dragging down the national average, dry forecasts in the 8 to 14-day NOAA forecast will ensure a speedy finish to harvest season (knock on wood).

“I averaged 58 bpa on beans over all the acreage,” a Northwestern Ohio grower reported. “For around here and for me, that is real good.”

Just to the north, a second Ohio grower in last week’s survey bemoaned recent rains, observing “this year’s soybean crop is even worse than expected. The late rains didn’t do a thing to boost yields. Very disappointing.”

A Northeastern Iowa farmer reported yields of “65 bpa” amid good crop conditions. A little farther east, another Iowa grower observed that even amid the good ratings, “beans got too dry” this growing season.

An Eastern Iowa farmer bore the brunt of derecho wind damage to the soybean crop as local harvests wrapped up, noting that “yields of 30-45 bpa are common” in the region.

Winter wheat sowing falls victim to dry conditions

Dry weather caught up with winter wheat planting last week as progress fell closer to the five-year average. For the week ending October 18, winter wheat sowing advanced 9% to 77% complete. The five-year average of 72% complete for the same time period crept closer to sowing paces as delays due in large part to dry soil conditions weighed on planting progress.

Emergence rates slowed due to persistent dry soil conditions as well. As of Sunday, 51% of the planted winter wheat crop had emerged, up 10% from the previous week but only 3% higher than the five-year average. States in the Southern Plains shouldered the majority of the delays, namely Oklahoma and Nebraska, which fell 6% and 9%, respectively, behind the five-year average for the week.

Dry conditions west of the Mississippi River left nearly 65% of the U.S. in some sort of drought or persistently dry condition last week, according to University of Nebraska’s Drought Monitor.

Drought Monitor

A Northwestern Ohio was experiencing the millennial-coined “fear of missing out” (or FOMO, for those looking to be efficient) as futures prices for soft red winter wheat in Chicago soared to five-and-a-half-year highs. “Didn’t plant wheat this fall,” the grower mourned. “My luck – now prices are the best we’ve seen.”

Rains to continue through next week

Growers across the Plains and Midwest finally found some relief this week from dry temperatures exacerbated by La Niña weather conditions, despite delays to harvesting activities. In the short-run, changes for above average rainfall will range between 33% - 40% across much of the Heartland, with changes increasing to as much as 50% in the far Eastern Corn Belt, according to NOAA’s 6 to 10-day outlook.

Precipitation graphic

But the rain delays will likely be short-lived. By the time Halloween rolls around late next week, showers will abate and leave the vast majority of the Midwest and Plains with 33% - 40% chances for below normal precipitation activity. Ohio and Pennsylvania are the exception, with changes of above average rainfall estimated between 33% - 40%.

A wet spring delayed planting activity in parts of the Eastern Corn Belt, so this updated forecast will present a new set of challenges to producers anxiously awaiting to complete harvest activities in that region.

Temperatures will likely trend cooler over the next week with the greater U.S. crop growing region experiencing a 33% - 80% chance of below average temperatures between now and October 29. Temperatures could warm slightly at the onset of November but will likely continue to trend below average to kickstart the new month.

Temperature graphic

Follow along with the season:

About the Author(s)

Jacqueline Holland

Grain market analyst, Farm Futures

Holland grew up on a dairy farm in northern Illinois. She obtained a B.S. in Finance and Agribusiness from Illinois State University where she was the president of the ISU chapter of the National Agri-Marketing Association. Holland earned an M.S. in Agricultural Economics from Purdue University where her research focused on large farm decision-making and precision crop technology. Before joining Farm Progress, Holland worked in the food manufacturing industry as a financial and operational analyst at Pilgrim's and Leprino Foods. She brings strong knowledge of large agribusiness management to weekly, monthly and daily market reports. In her free time, Holland enjoys competing in triathlons as well as hiking and cooking with her husband, Chris. She resides in the Fort Collins, CO area.

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