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2019 Weather: Floods, Delays, and Disease, Oh My!

Flooding, fieldwork delays, and disease plagued commodity growers across the Corn Belt in 2019.

The past year will be remembered for its extremes. Flooding, fieldwork delays, and disease plagued commodity growers across the Corn Belt in 2019. Here’s a recap of the season farmers have described as tedious, temperamental, and trying.

January

To start the year, most of the Midwest had adequate moisture. Just a handful of counties in Minnesota and Missouri reported abnormally dry conditions on January 1, 2019.

January 1, 2019 Midwest drought monitor map
Map Author: David Miskus, NOAA/NWS/NCEP/CPC

Drought conditions were more prevalent in the Plains, with moderate drought in northern North Dakota. Several counties in North and South Dakota reported abnormally dry conditions to start the year.

Map of drought conditions in Plains January 1, 2019
Map credit: David Miskus, NOAA/NWS/NCEP/CPC

Overall, January was wetter than normal with precipitation more than 2 inches above average in much of the southeastern Corn Belt.

January-2019-Precipitation-Departure-Map
Photo credit: Iowa Environmental Mesonet

Some of the coldest weather in generations hit farms stretching from North Dakota to Iowa late in the month. Ag businesses canceled shifts and farmers fed livestock extra rations as temperatures plunged to more than -40°F. in parts of the region.

Map of January 2019 polar vortex
Photo credit: Iowa Environmental Mesonet

The month ended with even fewer abnormally dry counties in both the Midwest and Plains. Only a few counties in extreme northwest Minnesota reported abnormally dry conditions.

Map of January 29, 2019 drought conditions
Map author: Brian Fuchs, National Drought Mitigation Center

Areas of moderate drought in North Dakota shrunk significantly by the end of the month.

Map of high plains drought conditions January 29, 2019
Map credit: Brian Fuchs, National Drought Mitigation Center

February

Abnormally dry conditions continued to be isolated in northwest Minnesota to begin February.

February 5, 2019 Midwest drought monitor map
Map credit: Richard Tinker, CPC/NOAA/NWS/NCEP

Although abnormally dry conditions persisted in several Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota counties, no moderate drought conditions were reported in those states.

February-5-2019-Plains-Drought-Monitor-Map
Map credit: Richard Tinker, CPC/NOAA/NWS/NCEP

Looking ahead to planting season, Meteorologist Kyle Tapley predicted spring would arrive slightly later than normal, especially for Iowa, Minnesota, and the Dakotas.

Temperatures across much of the Corn Belt were below average through the month of February. The western Dakotas were 20°F. cooler than average.

Map of February 2019 average temperature departure
Map credit: Iowa Environmental Mesonet

By the end of February, no dry conditions were reported for the Midwest.

February 26, 2019 Midwest drought monitor map
Map credit: Brad Rippey, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Dry conditions in Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota were significantly relieved during the month of February.

February 26, 2019 Plains drought monitor map
Map credit: Brad Rippey, U.S. Department of Agriculture

March

There were no dry conditions reported in the Midwest at the start of March. About nine counties of Nebraska were abnormally dry on March 5.

March 5, 2019 Plains drought monitor map
Map credit: Eric Luebehusen, U.S. Department of Agriculture

March brought news of the season’s first emerged corn in Texas. Jim Sugarek, a south Texas corn farmer, had most of his corn planted by the beginning of the month. Some of his crop had emerged already and was standing about 3 inches tall.

As bitter cold and snowstorms continued into March, farmers struggled to get tiling work done in time for seeding corn and soybeans.

A late-winter storm meteorologists dubbed a bomb cyclone set off a series of weather-related disasters for farmers across the Corn Belt. Blizzards, floods, and tornadoes damaged farm structures, swept away livestock, and left a mess of debris in fields across the region.

A state of emergency was declared by Nebraska Governor Pete Rickets on March 12 as deadly flooding ravaged the state. State and federal government officials surveyed the devastation in the following weeks.

As farmers struggled to account for their damaged property and feed their surviving livestock, meteorologists began analyzing the series of events that created the worst flood in Nebraska’s history. Regina Bird explained that precipitation from the bomb cyclone fell on frozen ground. Heavy rains fell in western Nebraska melting the snow. Water couldn’t soak into the frozen ground and poured into the state’s rivers and low-lying areas.

It didn’t take long for farmers and agribusinesses to feel the economic impact of road closures caused by flooding, even if they didn’t experience the high water themselves. At one point, more than 1,500 miles of Nebraska’s state highways were closed. Early estimates counted 14 Nebraska bridges that were put out of service.

Iowa, Wisconsin, and Missouri also reported a number of road closures.

Broken road in Nebraska after spring 2019 floods
Photo credit: Office of Nebraska Governor

Flooding and storm damage dominated parts of Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri for the rest of the year. For some farmers, the 2019 growing season came to an end before they got a single seed planted.

Flood damage in Nebraska in spring 2019
Photo credit: Office of Nebraska Governor

In other parts of the Corn Belt, conditions were right for tar spot, a growing fungal issue in the Midwest. Nathan Kleczewski, research assistant professor and Extension specialist in field crops plant pathology at the University of Illinois says, “It really likes the 60°F. to 70°F. temperatures and lots of humidity; at least 85%.”

April

USDA’s April 8 Crop Progress report said U.S. farmers had 2% of the corn crop planted, on pace with the five-year average. The same report noted Texas corn farmers are more than halfway finished with planting.

Although planting was under way in some parts of the country, farmers in southwest Iowa and eastern Nebraska were still coping with the aftermath of historic floods. Hay donations came by semi to help farmers who lost hay or couldn’t access it. Many farm families still couldn’t access all their property due to high water.

A farmer unloads hay donated to flood victims in southwest Iowa
Photo credit: Natalina Sents

The March bomb cyclone wasn’t the last storm to hammer farmers looking forward to planting season. Meteorologist Dale Moehler explained four more stores were forecast for various parts of the Corn Belt in the month of April.

USDA’s April 15 Crop Progress Report showed just 3% of the nation’s corn crop was planted, behind the five-year average of 5%.

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Corn planting progress.

Columnist and North Carolina farmer Heather Barnes shared how a wet spring delayed planting progress on her family’s farm. Growing up in the city she didn’t realize the complex relationship farmers have with Mother Nature.

While farmers around the country struggled to get their crops planted early in 2019, the winter wheat crop looked to be in good shape mid-April. However, foliar diseases began to show in isolated parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska.

The final Crop Progress Report of the month showed 15% of the nation’s corn and 3% of U.S. soybeans had been planted. Planting progress for both crops lagged behind the five-year average.

Corn planting progress map

May

As the damage caused by spring flooding was tallied, frustration grew among some flood victims who believe the rivers weren’t managed properly. “We’re controlled by floods, not doing flood control,” said Percival, Iowa farmer Pat Sheldon.

A pile of flood debris outside a Hamburg, Iowa home in March 2019
Photo credit: Natalina Sents

“A steady parade of storms” continued into May, continuing to curb planting progress. “There really hasn’t been a break in the storms at all,” said meteorologist Dale Mohler, noting more storms were in the forecast.

The first Crop Progress Report of May showed U.S. corn planting was 23% complete, well behind the 46% five-year average.

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Soybean planting progress was just 6% complete vs. the 14% five-year average.

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Nearly two months after major flooding began to hit the Corn Belt, high water continued to cause shipping issues on rivers important for grain trade. The shipping delays on the flood-ravaged rivers did some interesting things to the local elevator basis levels, said Cargill’s MarketGuide leader Greg Lumsden.

Parts of northwest Kansas recorded ambient air temperatures below 32˚F. in early May, prompting concern from wheat farmers about potential damage to the 2019 crop.

The second Crop Progress Report pegged U.S. corn planting at 30% complete, behind the 66% five-year average. Soybean planting progress was reported to be 9%, 20% behind the five-year average pace.

A detailed look at the wet, cool conditions around the Corn Belt shows why planting progress is so far behind. The entire Midwest recorded above-average rainfall between April 15 and May 15, 2019.

South Dakota farmers also suffered from unrelenting rains. Agronomist Curt Hoffbeck said, “It’s unprecedented. When you talk to farmers who have lived there all of their lives, none have seen a situation like this. South and west of Mitchell, some gravel roads are closed. Farmers cannot get planting and fertilizer rigs into those fields, due to weight restrictions or washed-out roads and culverts.”

Corn planting progress fell shy of the halfway complete mark in the May 20 Crop Progress Report. The five-year average is 80%.

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Corn planting progress

Soybean planting was 19% complete vs. a 47% five-year average.

Soybean520
U.S. soybean planting pace.

Heavy rains continued to slow planting progress across the Corn Belt. During the week ending May 19, one Iowa county recorded nearly 4 inches of precipitation. Parts of Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Illinois all recorded over 2 inches in the same time frame.

Corn farmers completed less than 10% of corn planting the following week bringing the total planted acreage to 58%.

Corn progress map from 5-28-19

Soybean planting was only 29% complete vs. the five-year average of 66%.

Soybean-Planting-Progress-528

Farmers who were able to get their corn and soybeans planted still faced plenty of weather-related challenges in May. After a brief window that allowed some South Dakota farmers to plant, temperatures dipped below normal levels again, causing concern. Low soil temperatures can cause chilling injury and cold stress, delayed or uneven emergence, and greater seed exposure to soilborne diseases and insects.

May’s wet conditions also prompted questions about nitrogen management. University of Minnesota Extension specialists Fabian Fernandez and Dan Kaiser shared what farmers can do.

Tom Haag says in the 40-plus years he has been farming near Eden Valley, Minnesota, he hasn’t had a season quite like this one. Snowmelt was slow due to cool temperatures and continual rains further delayed planting.

All of the top five corn producing states received more than 4 inches of rain in the last week of May. Henry County, Iowa, recorded more than 5.5 inches over the course of the week, while similar totals were seen in south-central Minnesota.

June

Corn farmers still fell short of the three-quarters mark with just 67% of the corn crop planted to begin the month of June. The five-year average pace for this week is 96%.

Corn0603

In the June 3 Crop Progress Report, soybean planting progress was reported at 39% vs. the five-year average of 79%.

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Wisconsin farmer Doug Rebout can’t remember a year as unusual as 2019. In early June he was still trying to put up first-crop hay, and wrap up corn and soybean planting.

The second Crop Progress Report of June 2019 showed the U.S. corn crop was behind in planting, emerging, and condition. Just 59% of the corn crop was rated in good/excellent condition, behind a 72% five-year average.

Soybeans were also behind. Just 60% of the nation’s crop was planted vs. an 88% five-year average. Only 35% of the U.S. soybean crop had emerged compared with the five-year average of 73%.

In its June 17 Crop Progress Report, the USDA pegged U.S. corn planting at 92% complete, behind the 100% five-year average. Also, 79% of the U.S. corn had emerged vs. a 97% five-year average. USDA reported 59% of the corn crop was in good/excellent condition.

Corn0617

The same report pegged soybean planting at 77% complete vs. a 93% five-year average. Also, 55% of the U.S. soybean crop had emerged vs. 84% five-year average.

Soybean0617

In anticipation of farmers planting cover crops on prevent-plant acres, USDA adjusted its rules to allow the land to be hayed, grazed, or chopped until September 1.

Farmers welcomed news of a forecasted end to the spring’s persistent rains. “It’s going to rain again, but this storm may be the caboose of the recent ‘train’ of storms that we have been experiencing in the Midwest this spring,” said meteorologist Dale Mohler.

The June 24 Crop Progress Report pegged U.S. corn planting at 96% complete, behind the 100% five-year average. Corn in good/excellent condition declined to 56%. Also, 89% of the U.S. corn had emerged vs. a 99% five-year average.

Corn0624

Soybean planting was reported to be 85% complete vs. a 97% five-year average. Just 54% of the nation’s soybeans were in good/excellent condition. Also, 71% of the U.S. soybean crop had emerged vs. a 91% five-year average.

Soybean0624

Staggering precipitation totals were recorded across the Corn Belt in the month of June. Totals reached 7.16 inches in southeast Iowa while parts of Illinois recorded more than 11 inches of precipitation. Select counties in Nebraska, Minnesota, and Indiana all recorded more than 5 inches of rain in the same time frame.

July

The first USDA Crop Progress Report of July rated 56% of the country’s corn crop in good/excellent condition.

Corn-Condition-7-1-19

The nation’s soybean crop was rated 54% good/excellent, unchanged from the prior week.

Soybean-Crop-Condition-7-1-19

In recent years, farmers who have waded into their cornfields on Independence Day have often been surrounded by waist- or shoulder-high corn, but not in 2019. “It’s been a long time since we used the term ‘knee-high by the Fourth of July,’” says Tom Hoverstad, a scientist at the University of Minnesota’s Southern Research and Outreach Center near Waseca, Minnesota. “But that might be the case this year.” 

Corn condition improved slightly in the second week of July according to the July 8 Crop Progress Report to 57% rated good/excellent. Just 8% of the corn crop was in the silk stage, compared with a 22% five-year average. The report said 90% of U.S. corn had emerged.

Corn070819

Soybean condition stumbled to 53% good/excellent, down 1% from the week prior. Also, blooming was pegged at 10%, well below the five-year average of 32%.

Soybean070819

Good/excellent corn grew slightly to 58% according to the July 15 Crop Progress Report. Just 17% of the nation’s corn crop was in the silk stage, compared with a 42% five-year average.

Corn715

The U.S. soybean crop condition also improved by 1% to 54% good/excellent. Blooming reached 22%, but was still behind the five-year average of 49%.

Soybean715

The July 22 Crop Progress Report did not show any improvement in corn and soybean crop conditions. Just 5% of U.S. corn had entered the dough stage vs. a 10% five-year average.

Corn722

Soybean ratings were equal to the prior week’s report, 54% good/excellent. Just 7% of U.S. soybeans were setting pods, compared with a five-year average of 28%.

Soybean722

Due to late planting, due to flooding, followed by scorching hot weather in July, the crop conditions continued to struggle to make progress.

Minnesota farmer David Himba said, “I haven’t seen a year like this. My dad hasn’t seen a year like this. Nobody has.” In late July he was concerned his corn crop wouldn’t mature before frost.

The final Crop Progress Report of July 2019 rated 58% of the U.S. corn crop as in good/excellent condition. Just 13% of corn had entered the dough stage compared with a 23% five-year average.

Corn729

The soybean condition rating remained at 54% good/excellent. Also, soybeans setting pods was reported at 21%, well below the five-year average of 45%.

Soybean729

August

Evidence of a cool and wet planting season dotted fields along I-35 between Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Des Moines, Iowa. Minnesota State Agriculture Commissioner Petersen said, “Minnesota’s farmers have faced some very difficult weather challenges this year, from late-spring blizzards to wind storms to chronic flooding.”

Corn field with extreme variability
Photo credit: Natalina Sents

Corn condition was down 1% to 57% good/excellent condition according to the first Crop Progress Report of August 2019. Also, 23% of U.S. corn had entered the dough stage vs. a 42% five-year average.

Corn805

Soybean condition remained 54% good/excellent, equal to the report a week ago. Also, USDA pegged the amount of soybeans setting pods at 37%, well below the five-year average of 63%.

Soybean805

Abnormally dry conditions were recorded in all five of the top corn producing states at the end of July and beginning of August.

Map of Midwest drought monitor July 30, 2019
Map credit: Curtis Riganti, National Drought Mitigation Center

Meteorologist Rob Miller predicted little relief for the wide section of I-state acres entering into the beginning stages of drought. The rains that he forecast were not expected to be enough to overcome dry conditions.

Corn is was rated at 57% good/excellent in the August 12 Crop Progress Report. Also, USDA said 7% of the U.S. crop was in the dent stage vs. a 16% five-year average.

Corn812

Soybean conditions also stayed the same at 54% good/excellent. Also, 54% of soybeans were setting pods, well below the five-year average of 76%.

Soybean812

Minnesota farmer Tom Haag said summer 2019 was “completely out of the norm,” noting signs of stress in his corn and soybeans after recent dry conditions. “There is probably moisture down deeper in the soil, but the roots didn’t develop because we had so much rain early on, and they stayed toward the surface,” he said.

The mid-August Crop Progress Report reflected a slight decline in corn condition to 56% good/excellent condition. USDA rated the crop in the dent stage at 15% vs. a 30% five-year average.

Corn819

Soybeans in good/excellent condition also dropped 1% to 53%. USDA said 68% of U.S. soybeans were setting pods, well below the 85% five-year average.

Soybean819

State agriculture department leaders from around the Corn Belt took turns giving brief growing season updates on stage at the Farm Progress Show. Illinois Director of Agriculture, John Sullivan, called the seasons’ rains “unbelievable.” Michigan Director of Agriculture Gary McDowell echoed him saying, “We had a real, real wet spring.”  Chris Chinn of Missouri added, “We have higher hopes for the next growing season.”

Illinois Director of Agriculture John Sullivan at a farm show in 2019
Photo credit: Natalina Sents

The end of August marked the start of harvest for farmers in the southern U.S. Early yield reports began trickling in from Mississippi, Texas, and Louisiana.

September

Corn conditions improved slightly to start the month of September according to the first Crop Progress Report of the month. USDA reported 6% of U.S. corn had reached maturity compared with the five-year average of 13%.

Corn904

Soybean conditions were the same as the prior week with 55% rated in good/excellent condition. USDA pegged the amount of soybeans setting pods at 86%, well below the five-year average of 96%.

Soybean904

Hurricane Dorian was expected to work its way up the East Coast but isn’t forecast to cause much more than scattered rains for Corn Belt farmers.

Corn condition around the country was reported to be 55% good/excellent in the first Crop Progress Report of September. USDA reported 11% of U.S. corn had reached maturity compared with the five-year average of 24%.

Soybean condition remained 55% good/excellent for the third week in a row. USDA reported 92% of soybeans were setting pods compared with a five-year average of 99%.

National corn harvest progress was reported as 4% complete in the September 16 Crop Progress Report. The five-year average is 7%.

Soybean crop condition fell slightly to 54% good/excellent. USDA reported 15% of soybeans are dropping leaves vs. the five-year average of 38%.

By September 20, farmers in the southern Corn Belt were making harvest progress. Yet, yields were coming in 40 to 50 bushels off last year.

Like planting and maturity, crop harvest continued at a slow pace according to the September 23 Crop Progress Report. Corn harvest was just 7% complete compared with a five-year average of 11%.

Soybean crop condition remained steady at 54% in good/excellent condition.

Harvest was also slow the last week of September thanks to immature crops and wet fields. USDA pegged the U.S. corn harvest at 11% complete vs. a 19% five-year average.

Just 7% of the soybean crop had been harvested, well below the five-year average of 20%.

Six months after snow, rain, and freezing conditions swept through the Plains, causing devastating floods, farmers in Nebraska were still working to recover and rebuild. “It’s just a storm that keeps on giving – for month after month after month this year,” explained Larry Dix, executive director for the Nebraska Association of County Officials.

Tremendous amounts of precipitation continued to plague farmers in the Cornhusker state hoping their late-plated corn and soybeans would mature before a hard frost.

Abnormally dry and moderate drought conditions challenged crops in parts of Illinois over the month of September.

September was a soggy month for Iowa corn and soybean farmers looking forward to harvest.

Iowa-September-2019-PrecipitationTotalsss
Map credit: Iowa Environmental Mesonet

October

For the first time, tar spot of corn was found in southeastern Minnesota during the 2019 growing season. Time will tell us how much tar spot can spread and damage corn in the state, says Dean Malvick, University of Minnesota Extension plant pathologist.

corn leaf with black tar spot
Photo credit: Iowa State University

Meteorologist Dale Mohler forecast frost for the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Wisconsin for October 10 and 11.

According to the first Crop Progress Report of October, crop conditions continued to decline while harvest pace significantly lagged behind the five-year average pace.

USDA rate mature corn at 58% vs. a 85% five-year average.

Corn1007

Soybean harvest was 14% complete, below the five-year average of 34%.

Soybeans1007

A powerful snowstorm made its way across parts of the central and northern Plains bringing unseasonably cold temperatures and high winds in early October.

U.S. farmers continued to harvest corn and soybeans across the Corn Belt. The October 15 Crop Progress Report showed corn harvest was 22% complete vs. a 36% five-year average. Just 25% of soybean harvest was complete compared with the five-year average of 49%.

Freezing temperatures, heavy snowfall, and high winds in the Plains continued to sideline farmers eager to make harvest progress. The October 21 Crop Progress Report showed U.S. corn harvest was just 30% complete, below the 47% five-year average. The amount of soybeans harvested totaled 46%, below a 64% five-year average.

Even when farmers were able to get in the field, harvest progress was slow and difficult. “Corn has been very wet, averaging 26% to 30%,” said Minnesota farmer Wanda Patsche.

More precipitation and winds up to 60 mph created more harvest challenges for Iowa farmers.

With more than 70% of the U.S. corn crop still in the fields, farmers were concerned about down corn after high winds swept through the Midwest.

Inclement weather continued to slow harvest progress. The October 28 Crop Progress Report showed corn harvest was just 41% complete.

Corn1028

The amount of soybeans cut totaled 62%, below an 80% five-year average.

Soybean1028

National corn harvest progress lagged behind the five-year average page by 20%. Precipitation and high winds in some areas continued to make harvest difficult.

November

Finally, by the November 4 Crop Progress Report, U.S. corn harvest reached the halfway mark. However, North Dakota farmers had only harvested 10% of their corn.

Corn114

Soybean harvest totaled 75%, below the 87% five-year average.

Soybean114

Soggy weather in soybean fields did not slow down the spread of soybean cyst nematode. In fact, floodwaters likely moved SCN to new areas, said Greg Tylka, nematologist at Iowa State University.

U.S. corn farmers in Iowa, North Dakota, and South Dakota were the furthest behind in corn harvesting according to the Crop Progress Report released November 12. Nationally, corn harvest was 66% complete, below the five-year average of 85%. The amount of soybeans cut totaled 85%, below a 92% five-year average.

Farmers with organic corn struggled to harvest it, with about half of the crop still sitting in fields around the Corn Belt according to Mercaris’ November 2019 Monthly Market Update.

According to the November 18 Crop Progress Report, U.S. farmers were nearly finished combining soybeans, but remained behind the normal harvest pace on corn. The USDA pegged the U.S. corn harvest at 76% complete, below a five-year average of 92% The amount of soybeans cut totaled 91%, slightly below a 95% five-year average.

Counties in Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Ohio received an inch or more of rain, slowing down harvest progress

As some farmers struggled to complete corn and soybean harvest in mid-November, wheat farmers grew anxious about the cold, dry conditions’ impact on crop establishment.

The USDA traditionally stops publishing its weekly Crop Progress Report at the end of November because the growing season is over and fall harvest is typically complete in most states. However, USDA extended its reporting to monitor corn and soybean harvest progress into December.

The USDA pegged the U.S. corn harvest at 84% complete, below the five-year average of 96% in its November 25 Crop Progress Report.

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Soybean progress was reported to be 94% complete across the U.S., just 3% shy of the five-year average of 97%.

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As the harvest season wore on, liquid propane (LP) became hard for farmers to find at times, creating bottlenecks for farmers needing to dry corn.

A report from the Energy Information Administration showed LP supplies had dropped further below averages while retail prices climbed. Officials said elevated demand was likely to persist through the first week of December.

December

The first Crop Progress Report of December indicated U.S. corn harvest was 89% complete, below the five-year average of 98%.

Corn1202

The December 2 report was the last update for U.S. soybeans as harvest was 96% complete.

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In the Southern Hemisphere, planting season was under way as farmers in the U.S. continued working through soggy harvest conditions.

CoBank released a report saying tighter margins and revenue pressures on country elevators will persist into the new year thanks to the weather-delayed harvest and other factors.

The final Crop Progress Report showed corn harvest was 92% complete, below a five-year average of 100%. Just 43% of the North Dakota corn crop had been picked.

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