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Too wet to pick: USDA numbers show Corn Belt harvest progress slowing down

If the 2007 fall harvest season was a race horse, he'd be an early front-runner but would be running out of gas on the backstretch.

This year's fall harvest started out and progressed quickly -- enough so that many farmers' combines are in the shed for the winter in parts of Illinois -- but the speed has dwindled to the point at which some farmers haven't been able to get much fieldwork done in as much as two weeks as rains continue to fall.

Monday's USDA-NASS Crop Progress report shows that, while corn harvest is still a few percentage points ahead of the previous five-year average, the difference in harvest progress between '07 and years past has shrunk considerably. As of Sunday, corn harvest had only advance from between one and four percent in the western Corn Belt and Plains states, while farmers in eastern Corn Belt states have made double-digit harvest gains in the last week.

Overall, 60% of the nation's corn crop has been harvested, five percent ahead of the average pace for this week and a gain of seven percent from a week ago.

Driven by eastern and southern Corn Belt states' progress, soybean harvest made a greater gain: As of Sunday, 75% of the nation's beans were harvested, a nine-percent rise from a week earlier but still three percentage points behind the previous average for this week.

Some corn and soybean farmers are now relegated to waiting until a hard freeze until the ground is solid enough to get the combine into the field. What's worse, crop conditions are beginning to erode as each day passes without a combine hitting the fields.

"I have not turned a wheel this week. Most of the fields are under water somewhere!" writes Agriculture Online Marketing Talk member "Tried to take corn two weeks ago, leaving one- to two-foot holes in the field. I gave up until it freezes."

In northwestern Iowa, Marketing Talk member nw ia fmr has a grim outlook for the rest of the harvest season. "Rain now for seven days is making harvest a muddy venture," he writes. "A lot of corn will be going down by the looks of fields in this area. The last of harvest could be a real nightmare."

There is reason to be cautiously optimistic for harvest progress in the next few days in the wettest parts of the Corn Belt, according to Freese-Notis Weather, Inc. While it may not cause a rapid drydown, the rains should pause most of this week.

"I could easily envision a better weather forecast for the Corn Belt with regards to a revival of widespread harvesting operations...but I could easily envision a lot worse weather forecast as well," according to Freese-Notis on Monday. "The best part about the weather outlook is that the extremely wet areas of the northwestern Corn Belt likely will not get that much rain this week. It is late October and thus soils are not going to dry extremely quickly, but that should still be enough of a window to eventually get harvesting going again in most of that area."

In other crops, winter wheat sowing remains slightly behind the average pace at 82% completed, while sunflower and sugarbeet harvest is behind average. Both cotton and sorghum harvest are around 10% ahead of the typical pace for this week.

If the 2007 fall harvest season was a race horse, he'd be an early front-runner but would be running out of gas on the backstretch.

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