Moe Agostino, Chief Commodity Strategist, Farms.com Risk Management and host of the 2020 9th Annual U.S. Corn Belt Crop tour completed 21 days, 12 states and 9,000 miles from June 27th – July 16th, 2020.
At the start of the tour crops were much further behind than expected thanks to an earlier planting season than 2019 that was too cold and wet. Farmers reporting lots of replanting issues and soybean crops that were planted earlier (less susceptible to a cold snap) than corn and were even taller than the knee-high corn as of July 1 instead of being head high.
One observation that stood out on tour this year was the extreme heat with a heat index at 100F from June 29th – July 3rd like no other year even 2012 which was not as hot but dryer. Despite the challenges and probably the worst year yet when it came to planting crops (too cold/wet) North Dakota crops were in much better shape than expected.
There was a lot of acres with pineapple corn (corn leaves curling) in Kansas, east/west NE on dryland, Southern IA, Northern MO and Northern IN as corn crops were stressing mostly on lighter soils and running out of gas. Heavier clay soils doing much better while bottom acres were too wet like in 2019.
This year also had a lot more storm clusters along our 21 days with hail and wind damage in NE Iowa and North Central IL with lots of haves and have nots. It was very spotty and variable with crops behind by 1 to as much as 4 weeks as many regions experienced the Mid-May cold snap and June heat and dry weather. Some had the frost the first week of May.
Nonetheless despite the issues the good crops (80 -90%) look like it will outweigh the bad (10-20%) with very little crop or disease stress. We are not out of the woods yet as we still need above average precipitation accumulation in the month of August (especially for soybeans) with 20% of the corn crop still pollinating at end of July/early August and a long strong finish would help.
The last many years we need to caution everyone that genetics may surprise us all again in 2020. According to the USDA as of July 27, 2020 U.S. crop conditions at 72% G-E for both U.S. corn and soybeans place the odds that the USDA increases the 2020 U.S. corn yield to 180 bpa (based off of the farmer survey and ear counting) and soybeans to 51 (maybe too early) in the August crop report scheduled to be released on August 12th, 2020.
The last record high for U.S. soybean yields was in 2016 at 52 bpa and the accumulated precipitation in the US. Midwest for July – August was above average. That year there were 8 U.S. states with record soybean yields and 4 with record corn yields. The last record high on the U.S. corn yield was in 2017 at 176.6 bpa. The 2020 May cold snap and June heat and high nighttime temps may have shaved the top end yields, but genetics could surprise once again?
The weather this year does not feel right and its crazy that we are cooling off this late into July but we need to remind everyone that there is no disaster in the making and there is a strong U.S. corn and soybean crop coming but some areas in the east, south and west will not be harvesting record crops and with that said we are projecting a U.S. corn crop at 173 – 175 bpa just below the record high in 176.6 bpa in 2017 and 48-49 bpa in soybeans below the record set in 2016 at 52 bpa but higher than last year at 47.4 bpa especially if August turns dry and there are no hurricane/tropical storms at the end of August/early September that blankets the U.S. Midwest with 1 inch rains we may not get the strong finish to either crops.
The 2020 weak La Nina could be just the start of a mini dry cycle that could peak in 2025 the 89-year drought cycle the last one being the 1936 dust bowl.
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