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Planning to Start Harvesting Corn Soon? Mother Nature May Have Other Plans

The U.S. corn harvest has officially kicked off and soybean collection isn’t too far behind – that is, if Mother Nature allows it.

Showers are expected in much of the Corn Belt for essentially the remainder of September and into the first week of October, says Joel Widenor, a meteorologist at Commodity Weather Group in Bethesda, Maryland. That’s bad news for Southern corn growers, while it may mean an ideal harvest window for those in the North.

The forecast precipitation is a shift from recent weather as little or no rain has fallen in much of the Midwest for the past two weeks, according to the National Weather Service. While all eyes were on hurricanes Harvey and Irma, few people talked about the dry spell hitting the Corn Belt.

The dry weather, however, followed a fairly rainy bout in parts of the Midwest. Despite the dryness the past couple of weeks, much of the region isn’t suffering from drought conditions. Eastern Montana and parts of western North Dakota and South Dakota are seeing drought conditions, as is a very small pocket of land in south-central Iowa, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Commodity Weather Group in a report on Wednesday morning said it expects showers in the Ohio River Valley, the northern Plains, and the northwestern Midwest this weekend. The Plains and western Midwest will see more rain in the next two weeks, which will ease rain deficits but slow early corn collection.

“As far as the harvest goes, it looks like (the rain) is going to slow the front end of things,” he said. “The 16- to 30-day outlook is active so we feel that it’s going to last until at least the front end of October. As far as the shorter-term stuff, we expect some slow going, especially in central and southwestern sections of the Midwest – Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska.

“In Illinois, two weeks down the road they’ll be trying to do more corn harvesting, so for them the rain is going to have a more substantial impact to the front end of the harvest.”

About 5% of the U.S. corn crop was harvested as of September 10, just behind the prior five-year average of 6%, according to the Department of Agriculture. No corn was collected in Iowa while only 2% was harvested in Illinois.

Only 21% of the total crop was mature as of Sunday, well behind the average of 31% for this time of year. In Iowa, only 15% was mature, about half of normal, and in Illinois only 26% was mature, behind the average of 41%, USDA data show.

The harvest even in normal years wouldn’t be expected to begin in earnest in much of Iowa and Nebraska for several more days, so the rainfall through the end of September there should only slow the start of crop collection.

The weather will dry out as October rolls on, which should give farmers a nice window for harvest, Widenor said.

“As you get deeper into October, when the harvest starts to pick up, it’ll be quieter at that point and the rains will be farther to the east,” he said. “Things are going to quiet down right when it becomes more critical for (farmers).”

More good news for producers in the central Corn Belt is that freezing weather isn’t much of a concern at this point with no damaging weather in the forecast. Patterns are generally warm for at least the next two weeks. Most areas likely will see their first freeze later than usual this year, forecasters said.

“It’s hard to make an argument for an early freeze at this point,” Widenor said. “In most of the areas, it looks (like the first freeze) will hit later than average. If one were to hit right now it could do some damage, but that doesn’t look like it’s in the cards. The crops should be mature by then, so we shouldn’t have any issues.”

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