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No Doubt, Crop-Weather Concerns Build

2017 is shaping up to be an interesting year. First, planting delays by cool and wet weather during the last half of April and all of May delayed the planting of many crops, most notably corn and soybeans. Farmers, who are so good at getting crops planted, fought through it for the most part to still get planting close to normal by the end of the year. However, at times. planting was pushed in wet soils, which can lead to less than optimal yields.  

As we closed May, a warm/dry pattern started to emerge for the far northwest Corn Belt and northern Plains cropping areas. Now, as we enter June, we have a rapidly declining HRS wheat crop, with soil moisture levels nationwide suffering the largest depletion of stored soil moisture so far this year in the last week. Are we shaping up to have a drought in 2017, starting in the northwest Corn Belt and spreading into the central and eastern Corn Belt? That seems to be the pattern so far, but this will play out over the next six to eight weeks before we start the reproductive stages of crop development. If the stored soil moisture is depleted by the time we start reproduction, we could have a significant risk of crop loss from drought in 2017 yet, in spite of a relatively wet start.

HRS wheat crop development in 2017 is a study in the development of a drought. We started off well behind normal planting progress in HRS wheat due to cool, wet conditions. But by May things started to dry out, and planting progress surged forward, making it look like our problems were over. But the rains shut off, and while we caught up and passed normal planting progress, with a lack of rain it didn’t take long for western areas to start coming under crop stress. Within two to four weeks, crop condition ratings were declining rapidly, culminated by a significant decline this week. The coming seven-day weather forecast offers little relief, with very warm and dry conditions forecast again. This could be the start of a significant yield loss in HRS wheat yield potential, as it comes at a critical time (when we approach reproductive stages and crop moisture needs are greatest).  

There are a few areas of rainfall in the U.S. today, in central Nebraska as well as parts of the Delta. Otherwise, it is mostly dry across the rest of the U.S., continuing a pattern that recently has formed. The seven-day today forecast calls for mostly below-normal precipitation across the U.S., as recent forecasts have dried out for most of the U.S. Temperatures will be above normal in the northwest Corn Belt, and below normal the next seven days in the southeast half of the Corn Belt. However, temperatures will warm in the eight- to 14-day to above normal for all of the Corn Belt. Precipitation is forecast right now to be normal to above normal in the eight- to 14-day forecast, but it did dry out a bit from yesterday afternoon’s weather runs. It appears weather is drying out across the U.S., which initially is good (especially for the soggy eastern Corn Belt). But at some point that will become concerning as the season wears on.

The crop progress and condition report on Monday afternoon showed some concerns, especially in spring wheat where crops are drying out in western areas. HRS crop conditions declined a huge 7% to be rated only 55% G/E, well below last year’s 79% rating. HRS wheat is 90% emerged, 5% ahead of the normal 85% emerged. But it is undergoing some drought stress at this early stage, and rainfall amounts forecast the next 14 days are not very impressive, either.  

Winter wheat crop ratings declined 1% to 49% G/E, well below last year's 62% rating. The Pro Ag yield model, however, was little changed at 50.07 bu/acre as we typically do decline in conditions as we approach harvest. Harvest is 10% complete, 3% ahead of average with Texas 58% done (vs. 23% normally), Oklahoma 25% (vs. 21% normally), but Kansas has yet to start (normally 5% done).  Winter wheat is 87% headed, 2% ahead of average.  

Corn planting is now 96% complete, 1% behind the average pace of 97% complete. Emergence is 86%, 1% behind average as well. Corn conditions improved 3% to 68% rated G/E, still below last year’s 75% rating but a pretty decent improvement. Warmer temperatures and drier conditions helped to improve conditions in soggy states. Soybeans are 83% planted, 4% ahead of average, with 58% emerged vs. 59% average.  

Cotton is 80% planted, equal to the average pace with 11% squaring, 4% ahead of average. Cotton is rated 61% G/E, well ahead of last year's 47% rating.  Sorghum is 55% planted, 5% behind the normal 60% planted. Sunflowers are 61% planted, 17% ahead of the normal 44% planted. Oats are 96% emerged, 2% ahead of average, while oats are 35% headed, 3% behind of normal 38%. Oat conditions are up 1% to 62% G/E, well below last year's 71% rating.  Barley is 99% planted, 3% ahead of average pace with 84% emerged, 3% behind the average pace. Barley conditions are down 1% to 69% G/E, well below last year's 78% rating, but not dropping as fast as HRS wheat this week.

With 7¢ gains overnight on the big drop in ratings, HRS wheat is leading grains higher today. But corn, with a 3% improvement in crop ratings, is holding back the grain market as we improved the crop last week. Soil moisture levels were depleted some last week, with topsoil moisture levels down 6% to 80% rated adequate/surplus, now 6% lower than last year's 86% rating. Subsoil ratings declined 3% to 85% adequate/surplus, now the same as last year so the recent dry spell is depleting soil moisture. For now that is favorable in soggy eastern Corn Belt areas, and that is causing an improvement in corn conditions. But if it lasts long, we could do some damage to the crop nationally if a drought were to settle in now for a number of weeks.  

Ray Grabanski is President of Progressive Ag Marketing, Inc., the top ranked marketing firm in the country the past eight years. See for rankings.

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