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Crops Race to Beat the Frost

Northern Corn Belt crops at highest risk.

Fall is quickly approaching, and many are concerned that fall season crops are not ready for it, especially in Northern areas.  

Essentially, we have a crop that hasn’t changed much from the beginning of the year to now, with only small increases in yield potential in most crops to just above trend yields. It’s still basically a very near-average crop. Yet, with big supplies to start the year, average appears to be enough, and that is keeping prices relatively cheap as we enter fall and the beginning of fall harvest.

While nationally the crop progress shows us nearly on track with normal progress and development, Northern areas have many farmers concerned they will not make crop maturity before the first frost.

As of Tuesday’s crop progress report, corn rated in the dough stage was at 92%, 2% behind the five-year average. Corn dented was at only 60%, 8% behind the five-year average nationally. Corn rated mature was only 12%, 6% behind the five-year average. 

So, corn seems to be the furthest behind normal development nationally. States that seem most concerned about an early frost include North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. In the northernmost areas, a normal frost date is at the end of September. For those most east and south, that date drops down to more like mid-October. How much time we get will affect not only yield but also drying costs to get corn dried down for storage.

Crop conditions were relatively stable, with corn dropping 1% to 61% rated G/E, which is still quite a bit below last year’s 74% rating. The Pro Ag yield model for corn dropped slightly to 171.2 bushels per acre down about 0.65 bushel per acre from last week. This is still above USDA’s August yield estimate of 169.5 bushels per acre.  

Soybean crop development isn’t as far behind normal as corn with pod set at 97%, actually 1% ahead of average. Soybeans are 11% dropping leaves, 1% behind the normal 12% at this time. Soybean conditions were rated unchanged from last week at 61% rated G/E, still well below last year’s 73% rating at this time.  

The Pro Ag yield model improved slightly this week to 47.49 bushels per acre, up 0.07 bushels per acre from last week. Still, this is the highest yield estimate of the year for soybeans. USDA’s August estimate is still in the stratosphere at 49.4 bushels per acre, apparently to recognize the nice, cool weather that soybeans were allowed in the month of August. Will that raise the soybean yield that much, though? We note that soybean prices have risen considerably since the August report day losses. Perhaps the trade doesn’t believe the bearish number USDA put out in August?

In this week’s corn condition ratings, some states dropped considerably in the G/E rating including Colorado (-18%), North Dakota (-2%), Pennsylvania (-4%), and South Dakota (-4%).  States that improved 2% or more included Illinois (2%), Iowa (+2%), North Carolina (+3%), Tennessee (+2%), and Wisconsin (+3%).  

For soybeans, states that improved considerably included Illinois (+1%), Iowa (+1%), Kansas (+1%), Kentucky (+1%), Minnesota (+1%), Missouri (+1%), Tennessee (+6%), and Wisconsin (+2%).  States that dropped significantly include Louisiana (-14%), Mississippi (-9%), North Carolina (-5%), and North Dakota (-4%), as the majority of the damage probably came from excessive rains from the hurricane.  

Other crops are continuing to develop, with cotton setting bolls at 96% (1% behind average) and cotton bolls at 25% (5% behind average). The cotton crop is rating a high 65% G/E, unchanged from last week and up considerably from the 48% rating last year at this time. 

Sorghum is 96% headed, 2% ahead of normal, but with sorghum coloring at 62%, 2% behind the normal rate. Sorghum is 31% mature, about 3% behind the average for this time. Sorghum is 23% harvested, 1% behind average. Sorghum conditions are still rated quite high in spite of a 2% decline this week to 63% rated G/E, almost as high as last year’s record-high crop (it was 66% rated G/E).  

HRS wheat is 89% harvested, 11% ahead of average while barley harvest is 92%, 8% ahead of average.  Oats are 91% harvested, 3% behind average, but we are marching forward in the small grain harvest toward completion. The eastern HRS wheat crop actually yielded much better than expected, and prices have retreated rapidly with that news along with news of the very good Russian HRS wheat crop and their expected increase in exports.  

Crop soil moisture ratings are holding at 62% rated adequate/surplus for topsoil nationally, and the same rating (62% adequate/surplus) for subsoil.  Both of these were unchanged this week, but still are below last year’s soggy 74% subsoil rating and 75% topsoil rating.  

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Ray Grabanski is president of Progressive Ag Marketing, Inc., the top-ranked marketing firm in the country the past eight years.

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