Producers hit with wet planting conditions, a drought, and high winds are preparing for a long and slow corn and soybean harvest the next couple of weeks. Weather pattern changes for the upper Midwest could only make matters worse if the crop isn’t harvested in time.

On Thursday, the National Weather Service said La Niña weather patterns, which typically bring cold, wet, and snowy weather to the upper Midwest, have returned. Most of western Corn Belt crop development is ahead of schedule, so those crops should be fine, USDA Meteorologist Brad Rippey told Agri-Pulse.

“It will be imperative to get the crop out as quickly as possible but in a couple areas, that may not be possible,” he said. One of those areas is in Iowa, where some farmers who were once expecting another bumper crop until their acres took the brunt of straight-line winds over 100 mph per hour August 10. Some producers are now being forced to disc their fields.

“It’s kind of a depressing time to be a farmer,” Tim Bardole, a corn and soybean producer in Rippey, Iowa, told Agri-Pulse. His fields were already facing a drought before the derecho hit.

Pointing to National Weather Service data, Bardole said winds of more than 100 mph flattened his corn and hail shredded half his soybean crop.

“I don’t even know when we’ll get done with harvest,” he said. “I would hope to think by Christmas, but we’ll have to run one way, so it takes twice as long.”

During a normal harvest, farmers can pick corn driving up and down the field, but when wind blows it down one way, they can only run one direction as the combine is forced to lift up the corn as it moves. Bardole said what normally could get finished in two months may take four.

According to USDA’s Crop Progress reports, the national corn crop ratings began an accelerated decline after the derecho. As of Sep. 8, corn was rated 61% good to excellent; at the end of July, it was rated 72%.

Iowa State University Economist Chad Hart said the rating drops the projected yield to 177 bushels per acre, a 5-bushel decline compared to a national yield projection of 182 bushels per acre in early August.

“Given USDA’s projected harvested area, the yield drop translates to a 420 million bushel decline in corn production,” Hart wrote in a recent crop outlook. “It is a large projected loss, but in the grand scheme of the national corn balance sheet, it does not change the overall story greatly.”

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He said U.S. production would drop from a projection of 15.27 billion bushels to 14.85 billion. In the report, Hart argues half the production decline could come from Iowa because corn crop ratings have fallen much more steeply than national classifications.

“At the beginning of August, 73% of Iowa’s corn crop was rated good to excellent. Now, only 45% is. The crop conditions yield model suggests that takes 16 bushels per acre out of Iowa,” he said.

Pointing to earlier harvested area estimates, Hart noted it would translate into 217 million bushels of lost production. He said the last time similar drops in crop ratings occurred was in 1989 and 2003, which both experienced late droughts like this year.

University of Illinois agricultural economist Scott Irwin said the drought in western Iowa will be the big question of how yields fare once they run through the combine.

“There’s still uncertainty about the yield and acreage impacts of the derecho, but I think ... what is equally and probably more important is the ongoing dryness in the state,” Irwin told Agri-Pulse.

Scott Irwin

Scott Irwin, University of Illinois

Irwin said the drought has caused new crop corn futures to rally some 40 cents higher since August, and the market is anticipating those impacts.

In eastern North Dakota, some producers were still harvesting their 2019 crop this spring. Some of those same growers also dealt with wet planting conditions, and were just hit with a freeze Sept. 9.

“It may be a bit of a struggle to harvest again there, in eastern North Dakota,” Rippey said.

There has also been dryness in the eastern Corn Belt, including in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio, but recent rains have helped conditions improve across that area.

Ben Brown, agricultural economics professor at Ohio State, said right now it looks like growers in that state can expect optimal weather for harvest.

“I heard multiple people say, ‘this isn’t fun anymore’ and it was just a year full of hits one right after another,” Brown told Agri-Pulse.

Last year, Ohio producers faced very wet planting conditions and then weather turned extremely dry. Producers across the nation reported 19.5 million acres were not able to be planted last year, according to USDA. There were 1.48 million prevent plant acres in Ohio in 2019.

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