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Iowa’s 2009 Corn Harvest Is 94% Complete As Of December 6

About 6% of Iowa’s corn crop is still in the field; and with a blizzard hitting statewide December 8-9, much of that corn may not be harvested until spring.

Iowa farmers have the bulk of the state's 2009 corn crop harvested, just in time before the first big winter snowstorm struck December 8-9. But there is still 6% of the crop still in the field—which is a significant amount--and yield will be lost the longer the corn stays out there during the winter.

The weekly weather and crop conditions survey results, released by the Iowa office of USDA's National Ag Statistics Service on December 7, shows that 94% of Iowa's corn was harvested as of December 6. The 2009 Iowa corn crop is forecast by USDA to total to a record 2.4 billion bushels—assuming the remaining corn is eventually all harvested.

Iowa's 94% completion of harvest by December 6 is better progress than is being made in Illinois, which reported 85% finished; Minnesota, 87% complete; Nebraska, 88% finished and Indiana, 91% complete. However, the grain markets don't seem to be concerned about the portion of the crop that is still in the field in these major corn growing states. Corn futures closed down 5 cents per bushel Monday on the Chicago Board of Trade to $3.68. Soybeans rose 10 cents per bushel to $10.80, primarily on news of another round of buying by China.

The longer corn stands in the field, the larger the yield loss

Much of Iowa received one-half to 2 inches of snow Sunday night December 6 and on Monday morning. Heavier amounts were falling statewide on Tuesday—with up to 12 inches total in central Iowa expected by the end of the day on Wednesday December 9. However, it is the winds of 30 to 40 mph that are forecast for these blizzard conditions on Tuesday night and Wednesday that will blow the snow and knock some of the corn to the ground.

"This has been a very challenging year and we've had the slowest harvest in over 50 years, with a lot of wet corn coming out of the field," says Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. "But again, Iowa farmers have demonstrated their productivity, efficiency and resiliency."

Iowa's wettest October since 1881 slowed the harvest to the latest completion since 1951 and put heavy demands on grain dryers. Corn came in with moisture contents averaging more than 20% for most of the harvest. While most of the frost that settled over Iowa's delayed harvest in November and into December didn't halt fall field work, it did slow field work down from normal.

Fall fertilizer application and tillage are behind schedule

The December 6 survey shows 58% of Iowa farms have completed fall tillage and fertilizer application. Normally, more than 70% of fall fieldwork is complete by this date. "Farmers like to apply as much fertilizer as they can in the fall to avoid the fickle spring weather which may result in planting delays," notes Northey.

Considering the lack of fertilizer application and the fall tillage that didn't get done this fall—if you look ahead to 2010--will more corn be planted or more soybeans next spring? "The lack of field preparation this fall in Iowa and other Corn Belt states will make it hard to get all the intended corn acreage planted next spring, and that is definitely an issue," says Don Roose, market analyst with U.S. Commodities in West Des Moines, Iowa. At the present time, he thinks the U.S. will see more of an increase in soybean acres than corn acres in 2010, just based on the fact that soybeans are currently the more profitable crop.

"Those indications are probably going to keep the bids supporting the corn market this winter, because the U.S. needs to go up by 1 to 2 million on corn acres in 2010, compared to the 2009 acreage," says Roose.

Quite a bit of corn still standing in fields in southern Iowa

The December 6 weekly USDA crop survey showed south central Iowa corn is about 83% harvested, which makes that crop reporting district the one that is farthest behind this fall in Iowa. Northwest Iowa is 95% done, north central is 98%, northeast is 91%, west central is 90%, central is 97%, southwest is 94%, southeast is 95% and south central is 83%.

"I think there may be more corn still in the field in south central Iowa than what this latest weekly report indicates," says Ray Jenkins, chief grain merchandiser for the Cargill corn processing plant at Eddyville. "I was driving across southern Iowa a few days ago and the bulk of the corn that's left to be harvested is definitely south of highway 34, primarily in the fields in the bottom row of counties across south central Iowa."

Movement to elevators and processing plants has been good

Jenkins thinks there still could be as much as 10 million to 12 million bushels of corn in the south central crop reporting district that has yet to be harvested. "That's a lot of corn standing out there at risk," he notes.

Corn movement coming into elevators and processing plants has been excellent lately, he adds. With this late harvest in 2009 there was a lot of corn harvested in November that didn't have a home and farmers and elevators were searching for about any place they could find to put it. "During the past three weeks we've had a tremendous number of trucks coming into our facility delivering corn," says Jenkins. "Especially on Fridays and Saturdays, when we could take in a large amount of wet corn and use that corn up as we processed it over the weekends--we received a lot of trucks. It's been a late harvest, but we've gotten through most of it. You don't expect harvest to stretch into December though."

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