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USDA crop progress: Corn condition drops another point

Soybean quality remains steady as harvest nears.

With September underway, the 2018 harvest grows ever-closer, with corn and soybean quality starting the season with above-average quality but battling to hold on over the past few weeks. The week ending Sept. 2 showcased mixed results, with soybean quality keeping steady while corn quality slipped another point, according to the latest USDA Crop Progress report.

Corn crop quality slipped from 68% rated good-to-excellent the prior week down to 67% last week. Another 21% of the crop is rated fair (up from 20% the prior week), with the remaining 12% rated poor or very poor (unchanged from the prior week). Analysts expected USDA to maintain its 68% good-to-excellent rating.

From a state-by-state perspective, Nebraska continues to lead the charge on crop quality, with 81% of its crop rated good-to-excellent. Other key production states such as Illinois (75%) and Iowa (74%) also continue to see a higher-quality crop than the national average. And Missouri (29%), North Carolina (36%) and Texas (29%) continue to represent the lower end of the quality spectrum.

“Crop ratings reported Tuesday were mixed, likely reflecting the uncertain impacts of very heavy rains in parts of the Midwest last week,” says Farm Futures senior grain market analyst Bryce Knorr. “While nationwide ratings for corn dropped, our state-by-state analysis actually showed a slight increase due in part to improvement in Missouri and Michigan, which were hit by bad weather earlier in the growing season. Gains in those states and others offset losses in Illinois and Iowa.”

The Farm Futures yield estimate based on the nationwide rating slipped to 175.7 bushels acre, but the state model improved to 177.4 bpa, Knorr says.

Physiologically, the 2018 corn crop continues its relatively fast pace. Nearly all (96%) of the crop is now at dough stage, versus 2017 and the five-year average, both at 91%. Three-quarters of the crop is now denting, versus 58% a year ago and a five-year average of 60%. And 22% of the crop is at full maturity, versus 11% a year ago and a five-year average of 11%.

Soybean crop condition for the week ending Sept. 2 held steady, with 49% of the crop in good condition and 17% of the crop in excellent condition – a move analysts largely anticipated. USDA did not alter the percentage of the crop rated fair (23%), poor (8%) or very poor (3%) from the prior week, either.

With several states trending above the nationwide average, only Missouri (45%) and Kansas (49%) are seeing less than half of their crops in good-to-excellent condition.

“Soybean yield projections also showed a little divergence,” Knorr says. “The nationwide rating was unchanged, leaving the protected yield at 51 bushels per acre. But the forecast based on state-by-state ratings improved around two tenths of a bushel to 50.3 bpa. By contrast, our forecast based on the latest Vegetation Health Index is 50.8 bpa for soybeans while the model based on summer weather is at 51.7 bpa. The VHI for corn improved to 177.1 bpa with the weather model at 176.5 bpa.”

Physiologically, 16% of the soybean crop is now dropping leaves, versus 7% a week ago, 10% last year and a five-year average of 9%.

The 2018 U.S. spring wheat harvest is beginning to wind down, reaching 87% complete last week. That pace is in line with last year’s progress of 87% and moderately ahead of the five-year average of 75%.

Farther south, the U.S. cotton crop is also tracking ahead of normal, with 29% of the crop at open-boll stage. That’s up from 2017’s pace of 24% and the five-year average of 26%. Cotton quality fell another three points, however – moving from 44% in good-to-excellent condition the prior week down to 41%. Last year, 65% of the crop was in similar condition.

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