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Corn, soybean harvest accelerating in the Corn Belt

Agriculture.com Staff 11/03/2009 @ 8:08am

The late planted and late maturing corn and soybean crops of 2009 have also experienced one of the slowest harvest rates in modern history. As of October 25, the USDA reported only 20% of the corn crop and 44% of the soybean crop had been harvested.

For corn, an average of 58% of the crop had been harvested by that date in the previous 5 years. Excluding the slow pace of 2008, the average for that date was 63% harvested. For soybeans, the previous 5-year average harvest pace for that date is 80%. The rate of harvest relative to the previous 5 year average pace varied considerably by state and within states. The slowest pace of corn harvest was in Illinois, with only 14% harvested as of October 25, compared to the previous 5-year average of 77%.

The percent of the crop harvested ranged from 3% in the northeast crop reporting district to 38% in the southwest district. Excluding 2008, the previous average harvest completion by that date was 85%. Harvest was at a more normal pace in the southern states of North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. Soybean harvest was especially slow in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The pace of harvest was near normal in Ohio.

Some additional harvesting occurred during the week ended November 1, but the pace was likely very slow. The percent of the crop harvested will be reported in the USDA's Crop Progress report to be released on November 2. The current week may result in the fastest pace of harvest so far this year. The Midwest is expected to be generally rain free, allowing harvest to pick up speed as the week progresses. The pace will vary geographically, reflecting various levels of precipitation received last week.

For corn, the most rapid weekly rate of harvest in recent years has resulted in 16% of the crop being harvested. Those peak weeks tended to be in the middle of harvest when the majority of farms were still harvesting. The harvest rate declined as more producers completed harvest. Assuming only about 25% of the crop was harvested as of November 1, a harvest pace of 16% per week would require almost 5 weeks to complete the harvest.

Since the pace cannot be maintained at 16% per week, it appears that harvest will stretch into at least mid-December, depending on future weather conditions. The pace of harvest will also be influenced by the rate at which the crop can be conditioned for storage and shipping. Areas with a majority of the crop still at high moisture levels could experience some delays due to limited drying capacity.

For soybeans, the peak weeks of harvest in recent weeks have seen 20% to 24% of the crop harvested. With perhaps 50% of the crop harvested by November 1, it still appears that harvest could extend into December, depending on weather conditions after this week.

The delayed harvest due to wet conditions raises several issues about the quantity and quality of the 2009 crop, particularly the corn crop. More widespread disease outbreaks, low test weights, above average field losses, and quality deterioration due to drying and handling a crop with high moisture levels have all been cited as potential problems. In addition, extreme weather conditions in some areas may result in more than the average amount of unharvested acreage.

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