Market analyst: Finally, a harvest window?

Ray Grabanski
Special to the Farm Forum

10/29/19 — It’s been a struggle to say the least this fall, with lots of difficulties in harvesting this crop including mud/rain/snow in the northern plains, which made the HRS harvest hazardous, and about 25% of the crop feed wheat. In the rest of the Midwest, it’s been dealing with a late developing crop as well as frequent rains that keep both soil and grain too wet to combine.

But finally, this week (along with very cold weather) has come dry weather, especially to the western Corn Belt, and that will allow harvest to proceed. For the Northern Plains, the cold is an important part of that harvest weather as temps down to 20 degrees is “just right” in some cases to freeze/firm the soil enough for combines to roll. And so a strange thing is happening, where combines start up about 9 p.m. and harvest until about 9 a.m. (the opposite of normal) since the harvest goes so much better in the freezing weather. Better because the soils freeze solid enough to support the heavy equipment, making it possible to do so much more with so much less effort. You have to hand it to farmers — they are innovative and industrious enough to get a lot done with just a little favorable weather!

Weather forecasts continue to suggest cold and dry weather for the next two weeks, with the exception of the eastern Corn Belt, which will see some above normal precip for the next week. Overall, this will allow harvest to progress in many areas in the U.S., but especially in the western Corn Belt.

Crop progress showed corn harvest advancing to 41% complete Monday, 10/28, now 20% behind normal due to wet soils and wet corn grain slowing harvest. Surprisingly, corn conditions rose 2% to 58% G/E, a fairly sharp rise this late in the season. The Pro Ag yield model rose 1.5 bu/acre to 173.2 bu on that change, a number that seems high in relation to the past years. But apparently someone’s corn must be better than they thought when they harvested it.

Soybeans are 62% harvested, 16% behind normal as the harvest is expanding nicely in many areas. Since over 50% of the soybeans are harvested, there are no more crop ratings, and thus no more yield models to discuss. The “lie detectors” (combines) are out in force right now, so there isn’t much to discuss now except what shows up in the combine hopper (actual yields). So the math game of adding that up has begun, and typically USDA is relatively accurate by the November report.

Cotton is 46% harvested (3% ahead of normal), with conditions down 1% to 40% rated G/E (vs. 35% last year). Sorghum is 65% harvested (3% ahead of normal), with sugarbeets only 58% harvested at this late period vs. 84% normally. Sunflowers are only 17% harvested vs. 45% normally, so the northern plains are really struggling with muddy fields and cold conditions. There is virtually no drying time left in this season, and to freeze up flooding not only makes it difficult to finish harvest, but is an ominous sign for what can be expected for spring flooding.

Winter wheat planting is going pretty good, with 85% planted (3% ahead of normal) and 63% emerged (1% behind normal). The first winter wheat conditions of the year are at 56% rated G/E, above last year’s 53% rating. That can be expected as soil conditions nationally are 81% rated adequate/surplus topsoil, and 78% subsoil so soil moisture levels are quite high. For winter wheat, which is planted on the most arid soils, more soil moisture is usually good, and that is showing up in ratings.

Soon, the crop sizes will be relatively well known, as with 50% of the harvest complete or near that in both corn and soybeans, it’s likely there will be few new surprises. Soon the attention will turn to demand, with a huge factor the potential “phase 1” trade agreement with China expected about Nov. 15. So far since the two sides decided to play nice recently, China has been a large purchaser of U.S. goods including soybeans. That is all good news for agriculture, which will be a part of the “Phase 1” agreement. If so, the U.S. ag outlook can improve mightily from the past 18 month period to the point that it might not seem we are even on the same planet!