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Spring Planting Progress and Crop Ratings

The recent flooding in Nebraska and Iowa has many remembering the flood devastation of 1993. Some feel this year’s flooding will be far worse when all is said and done. The flood of 1993 actually resulted in a similar fashion to what is happening now; a very rainy autumn the year prior, followed by a winter with relentless heavy snow accumulation. In the spring of 1993, the wet weather was persistent with incessant rain occurring over already flooded areas. And, according to current weather models, the Midwest is likely to see a similar pattern this spring and early summer of above-average precipitation. 

Was There a Planting Delay in 1993?

Trade usually doesn’t get too worked up about planting delays anymore thanks to the advanced planting technology of the farmer. Curiosity got the best of me, and I went back to see how corn planting progress was in 1993. Specifically, I wanted to focus on “week 18 and 19,” which hinge right around the mid-May time frame. This time frame is when trade might actually get nervous about the crop getting planted, more so due to more portions of the crop pollinating during the highest peak of summer heat in the following months. 

Yes, the crop was slow to get planted in 1993. According to the chart below, the U.S. corn crop was only 18% planted at week 18. By week 19 the crop was 40% planted, and by week 20, the crop was 71% planted. The corn crop did get planted that year, but progress was slow, and final yield was low at 100.7 bpa. The prior year corn yield was 131.4 bpa, which accumulates to a 24% loss.

This made me wonder what other years had a “slow start” to the planting season, and how did yield fare in those years? According to USDA documentation, 1995, 2009, 2013, 2017, and 2018 also had “slow starts to the planting season” specifically hinging around week 18/19 (again that mid-May time frame which in traders’ minds, is an important benchmark). In each of those years, the crop had a slow start to planting, but overall, was planted. In fact, in the chart below, you can see how in many years over half of the crop can get planted within two weeks’ time frame, if given the right weather.  

U.S. Corn Crop Planting Progress Percentage for the “Good to Excellent” Category. Showing Years with a “Slow Start” (Source USDA)
Year Week 17 Week 18 Week 19 Week 20 Week 21 Week 22 Week 23 Final Yield
1993 9 18 40 71 87 93 96 100.7
1995 10 20 36 56 81 80 91 113.4
2009 22 33 48 62 82 93 97 164.4
2013 5 12 28 71 86 90 95 158.1
2017 17 34 47 71 84 91 96 176.6
2018 5 17 39 62 81 92 97 176.4

Does a Slow Start to the Planting Season Affect Yield?

Next, I noticed how in some of those years where the planting progress was slow, the final yield was a new record, or the final yield was a legitimate failure. Clearly, the weather during the bulk of the growing season affected final yields. In 1993, it rained all summer. In 1995, there was a horrific heatwave with horrible humidity that led to a poor crop and, unfortunately, hundreds of human lives lost. Final yield in 1995 for corn was 113.4 bpa (down from 138.6 the year prior, a 19% loss). 

However, please note that in some of the years we had a slow planting start, summer and early fall weather was pretty darn good for grain production, and yields were record in those years. The point is, in spite of slow starts to spring planting, a crop can be a bumper or a whimper depending on growing conditions throughout the summer. No surprise, but it’s nice to see the proof on paper.

How Do We Try to Measure Yield Potential During the Growing Season?

Thankfully, we do have a way to keep tabs on the crop quality during the growing year. Each Monday afternoon, the USDA releases Crop Condition Ratings which give a “macro snapshot view” of how the crop is progressing. How did the crop condition ratings look in the years in question? Let’s look below. Now remember, a friendly reminder, the weekly crop progress ratings are gathered by Extension professionals in the industry. Their views are subjective and are merely a way to get an overhead view of the crop. The USDA does not come up with final crop yield based on this weekly data, but it is interesting to follow the opinions and observations of those gathering the data.

U.S. Corn Crop Conditions Ratings for the Good/Excellent Category. Shown in Percentages (Source USDA)

Year Week 24  Week 25 Week 26 Week 27 Week 28 Week 29 Week 30 Final Yield
1993 57 57 54 51 49 49 53 100.7
1995 60 60 63 66 62 60 61 113.4
2009 70 70 72 71 71 71 70 164.4
2013 64 65 67 68 66 63 63 158.1
2017 67 67 67 68 65 64 62 176.6
2018 77 78 77 76 75 72 72 176.4

A few takeaways:

  • In 1993, the quality of the crop barely made it over 50% Good to Excellent, and then it went downhill from there. And final yield reflected that. 
  • In 1995, the Good to Excellent category hovered in the low 60s, but the July heat wave that affected pollination so immensely was not realized until harvest.  
  • Then in 2009, 2013, 2017, and 2018 – the crop was rated quite well, and final yields reflected that.

In summary, the crop will get planted. Here are three takeaways to focus on heading into spring and summer:

  • The final acres that get planted.
  • The number of prevent-plant acres.
  • Crop condition ratings starting at week 24.

If this indeed is a year similar to 1993 in terms of weather patterns, then crop ratings might be key for a June rally. If crop ratings start off with numbers in the mid-50s and do not improve, it offers potential price support to market prices on the potential for less yield. Remember in years where there was a slow start to planting, AND there were adverse weather conditions during the growing season? Yield loss was 19% to 24% lower than the prior year; 19% less yield on last year’s 176.4 yield would be a 33-bushel yield drop, pegging the 2019 crop at 143.4 bushels per acre. That would be a game changer.

If you have questions, you can reach Naomi at nblohm@stewart-peterson.com.

The data contained herein is believed to be drawn from reliable sources but cannot be guaranteed. Neither the information presented, nor any opinions expressed constitute a solicitation of the purchase or sale of any commodity. Those individuals acting on this information are responsible for their own actions. Commodity trading may not be suitable for all recipients of this report.  Futures trading involves risk of loss and should be carefully considered before investing.  Past performance may not be indicative of future results.Any reproduction, republication or other use of the information and thoughts expressed herein, without the express written permission of Stewart-Peterson Inc., is strictly prohibited. Copyright 2019 Stewart-Peterson Inc. All rights reserved.

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