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Feedback from the Field – Week ending September 20, 2020

Corn conditions improve as harvest ramps up

Jacqueline Holland, Grain market analyst

September 22, 2020

7 Min Read
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Feedback from the Field respondents are well into the harvest season, according to farmer reports over the past week. And while damaged crops from the August 10 derecho windstorm and the heat stress from August continue to be front of mind, many farmers continue to enjoy strong yields in the early days of harvest.

“It could be a good year. The corn is slowly drying,” one Kentucky Farm Futures reader wrote. “I’ve harvested fields that were drier this year. The average is above average for us.” Farmers across Minnesota and the Eastern Corn Belt also reported corn crops in good to excellent condition.

Corn harvest rates dipped below historical averages last week as harvest activity began to pick up momentum. As of September 20, 8% of U.S. corn was picked, up 3% from the previous week but 2% lower than the five-year average. Analyst estimates had pegged harvest progress at 11% complete.

It may be too early in the season to be concerned with slow harvesting rates, but with anticipated slowdowns from derecho windstorm damage, a slower harvest could tease basis levels higher in the Midwest as the new crop races to meet demand.

Related:Recap the worst Minnesota crop pests, diseases in 2020

Yet harvest conditions remain variable across the Corn Belt. Harvest reports from the newswires indicate strong yields in Indiana and Ohio, but the true extend to the growing season’s hiccups may not yet be realized. “A lot of corn and beans were planted before Easter here,” an Indiana farmer wrote. “It was almost a record crop then a hot and dry June cut yields.”

A clear and mostly warm week fueled maturation progress in the nation’s corn crop. As of Sunday, 95% of the crop had reached the dent stage, 5% of the five-year average. Last week’s weather conditions powered maturation rates up 18% to 59% complete as of September 20, 10% of the five-year average.

Corn condition ratings improved 1% from a week ago to 61% good to excellent.

Soybean yield estimates remain top of mind

It was the first week of reporting on soybean harvest progress in USDA’s Crop Progress report released yesterday. Even though combining paces matched historical averages for the week, concerns remain about the yield potential of the crop.

“We will have to wait until the combine runs to get yields,” a Kentucky farmer mused. But it may pay off in that area of the world. “Soybeans may be above average with the rain that we have had,” the grower projected.


USDA reported the first week of soybean harvest in their weekly Crop Progress report released yesterday afternoon. As of September 20, 6% of U.S. soybeans had been harvested with the most significant progress coming from Southern states. USDA’s weekly reading was in line with the five-year average.

The crop continues to mature at a rapid rate. As of Sunday, 59% of soybean plants were dropping leaves, up a staggering 22% from the previous week and 9% ahead of the five-year average. Condition ratings stabilized at 63% good to excellent on the week in the absence of any significant freeze damage in the Upper Midwest.

Still, even as the crop matures, a growing season peppered with wind damage, heat stress, drought, lack of nutrients, and even an early frost could see lower yielding bean plants in 2020. “Too much rain for soybeans,” a Red River Valley farmer from Minnesota lamented about early growing conditions in the region. With 10% of the farm’s crop harvested, the grower reported, “disappointing yields. Maybe 35 bushel per acre.”

An Indiana grower had the opposite issue, with summer heat stress threatening yields. “Hot and dry weather in June and August were unhealthy for beans here,” the farmer speculated.

Spring wheat ends as winter wheat picks up

Soft white wheat harvest in the Pacific Northwest and hard red spring harvest in the Northern Plains are winding down, with 95% of both harvests complete as of last Friday. The durum crop remains over 70% harvested, though progress in North Dakota and Montana is ahead of last year’s pace and expected to end within the week.

Spring wheat harvest is 96% complete, according to yesterday’s Crop Progress report. With hard red spring and soft white wheat harvests largely finished, durum harvest in North Dakota is the last holdout. But with durum harvest already tracking ahead of historical averages and favorable weather conditions for harvest this week, USDA will discontinue tracking spring wheat activity until 2021.

Dry soil conditions have favored faster than average winter wheat planting progress so far this season, especially in the High Plains and Pacific Northwest. Rain in the region over the weekend likely stalled planting progress but could bode favorably for emerging crop conditions.

As of September 20, 20% of the country’s winter wheat crop for 2021 had been planted, up 10% from the previous week and 1% ahead of the five-year average. Early emergence rates show the crop at 3% emerged, 1% above the five-year average. Winter wheat planting progress will likely track corn and soybean harvests very closely this fall.

Winter wheat planting still has a little while to wait in the Midwest as corn and soybean harvests are just beginning. “Wheat here is usually sowed the first week of October,” pointed out an Indiana reader.

Dry soil conditions will likely continue to plague farmers as they plant the 2021 winter wheat crop. “Dryland Eastern Washington is very dry,” reported a local farmer. “Last moisture was June 13 at .26" but there is a chance of showers next week. Lot of seed sitting in dry dirt.”

Slight chance of rain?

Drought conditions eased slightly in the Midwest last week, but intensified in the West, according to the latest data from the University of Nebraska Drought Monitor. Rain in the Pacific Northwest and across the Southeast due to hurricane activity helped national pasture and rangeland conditions improve 3% on the week to 27% good to excellent. But the West, Midwest, and Plains remain dry as harvest season kicks into full gear, threatening winter grazing conditions if this dry weather pattern continues.

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Looking to NOAA’s most recent 6 to 10-day outlook, dry weather could see a reprieve in the Eastern Corn Belt next week. The likelihood for above-average rainfall early next week increases to 40% - 50% east of the Mississippi River, which could delay harvest progress in key Corn Belt states. However, showers will likely pass by the end of the week as chances of below average rainfall increase.

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Rainfall in the Plains and Western U.S. will remain sparse through the same time period as below average precipitation probabilities range between 33% - 50%. Dryness will intensify in the West late next week.

Cooler temperatures will prevail across the Midwest and Plains next week. Chances for sub-average temperatures range between 33% - 50% through most of the week. Normal temperatures are expected in the Northern Plains early, which could limit frost damage to crops awaiting harvest in that region. But cooling temperatures approaching next weekend will likely increase chances of frost.

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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