Focus on Ag: Weather the main factor in 2022 variable yields

Kent Thiesse
Farm Management Analyst
Kent Thiesse

Most crop experts are agreeing that 2022 corn and soybean yields are likely to be highly variable and are very difficult to predict.

As in most years, weather patterns, rainfall amounts and the occurrence of severe storms will result in weather again being the primary factor when it comes to the “haves” and “have nots”, as far as 2022 corn and soybean yields are concerned. Drought conditions have expanded in portions of the southwestern Corn Belt, with the greatest impact in Nebraska, but also affecting portions of western Iowa, South Dakota and Missouri. There are also pockets of drier areas in Indiana and Ohio. On the other hand, large portions of southern Minnesota, eastern Iowa, western Illinois, and southern Wisconsin have mainly good-to-excellent crop conditions.

The rainfall events during August certainly helped finish off the corn yield expectations in many areas that were not severely drought-stressed, as well as adding some late season growth and pod development to the soybeans. As has been the case during most of the 2022 growing season, the August rainfall events in many areas have been quite widespread and highly variable.

The August rainfall probably came too late in the hardest hit drought areas of Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota to have much of a positive impact on final yield potential for 2022. There have also been some widespread severe storms across the Midwest that may not have much impact on overall U.S. corn and soybean production; however, these severe storms can certainly alter the yield expectations for producers in some localized areas.

Most of the crop information in the yield estimates released by USDA and by private companies was based on crop conditions in early-to-mid August, so any major changes in conditions after that timeframe could alter the future yield projections. The expanding drought area during late July and early August has dimmed the hopes for record yields in many of the major corn and soybean producing areas of the United States.

Most experts, as well as USDA, expect the final 2022 U.S. corn yield to fall short of the final 2021 record U.S. corn yield of 177 bushels per acre. The final 2022 corn yield is likely to end up closer to the 2020 final U.S. corn yield of 172 bushels per acre; however, some private analysts have projected a much lower 2022 national corn yield. The National Ag Statistics Service (NASS) Crop Report released on Aug. 12 estimated the 2022 U.S. average corn yield at 175.4 bushels per acre.

The final 2021 U.S. average soybean yield is projected to end up close to or slightly above the 2021 final U.S. soybean yield. The NASS Crop Report that was released by USDA on Aug. 12 estimated the average 2022 U.S. soybean yield at 51.9 bushels per acre, which would be slightly above the final U.S. soybean yield of 51.4 bushels per acre in 2021. The 2022 soybean yield estimates from private companies have been slightly lower than the USDA yield estimate; most likely representing the worsening drought conditions in portions of the western Corn Belt.

Severe storms with strong winds and large hail have seemed to be more widespread across the Midwest during the 2022 growing season, compared to other recent years. However, in localized areas, there has been some “green snap” damage to corn and severe hail damage to corn and soybeans. There certainly have been no storms to date in 2022 that would come close to rivaling the severe derecho storm that hit central Iowa and the surrounding states in mid-August of 2020, when thousands of acres of corn in locations across the Upper Midwest were either laid down flat or snapped off below the ear.

If corn stalks are snapped off below the ear by strong winds, there is not much recourse for producers. It would be very difficult to pick up those ears off the ground to be harvested. Possibly there may be a way to salvage some of the damaged corn for forage to be fed to cattle or the fence off the area and have cattle graze the corn.

If producers have corn, soybeans or other crops were damaged by wind, hail, or drought, it is important for them to contact their crop insurance agent prior to harvesting the crop or before salving the crop for livestock forage. Crop insurance adjusters will do a preliminary evaluation of crop loss but may not be able to finalize the crop loss until after harvest is completed. Some crop producers also carry special wind or hail insurance on their crops and again should contact their insurance agent before beginning to harvest or salvage the crop.

At this point, no Federal disaster assistance program has been announced for 2022 crop losses from drought or severe storms. The Emergency Relief Program (ERP) did cover a portion of crop losses from late planting, heavy rainfall and other natural disasters for both the 2020 and 2021 crop years, which was similar to the previous WHIP+ disaster program for the 2018 and 2019 crop years.

Normally, one of the biggest challenges with the corn crop in Minnesota and other northern Corn Belt states is usually getting the crop mature before the first killing frost. Average first frost dates range from around September 20 in the northern areas of the region to around October 10-15 in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa. The good news is that crop development in many areas of the central Corn Belt, including southern Minnesota, is normal to slightly ahead of normal. Since May 1, the accumulation of growing degree units (GDU’s) have been running 5-8% or more above normal at most locations. There is still some concern with crop maturity in areas of North and South Dakota, as well as central and northern Minnesota that incurred very late planting dates in the spring of 2022.

Corn is considered safe from a killing frost once the corn reaches physiological maturity, which is when the corn kernel reaches the “black layer” stage. Much of the 2022 corn crop is likely to reach this stage by mid-late September, which should greatly reduce any concern for an early frost this year. When the corn reaches “black layer”, it is still usually at a kernel moisture of 28-32%. Ideally corn should be at 15-16% kernel moisture for safe storage in a grain bin until next spring or summer. Once the corn reaches maturity, favorable early fall weather can greatly assist with natural dry-down of the corn in the field, which can reduce corn drying costs and enhance corn quality. It is likely that a high%age of the 2022 corn crop will be stored in farm grain storage until the spring and summer of 2023.

Based on the Aug. 29th USDA Crop Progress Report, 54% of the corn crop in the U.S. rated “good-to-excellent”, which is the same as a week earlier. The 2022 corn ratings compare to a “good-to-excellent” crop ratings of 60% at the end of August a year ago and 62% in 2020. The nationwide corn good-to-excellent ratings have declined for four weeks in a row, reflecting the worsening drought conditions in portions of the western Corn Belt. The highest statewide “good-to-excellent” ratings were Wisconsin at 76%, Illinois at 69%, Iowa and North Dakota at 66%, and Minnesota at 65%. The lowest “good-to-excellent” corn ratings were in Nebraska at 39%, South Dakota at 51%, and Indiana at 54%. Nationally, 19% of the soybean crop was listed as “poor-to-very poor”, including 34% in Nebraska and 25% in South Dakota.

The weekly USDA Crop Report on Aug. 29 listed 57% of the U.S. soybean crop as “good-to-excellent”, which was a decline of one% from the Aug. 22 weekly report. A year ago, 56% of the U.S. soybean crop was rated “good-to-excellent” at the end of August. Once again, Wisconsin leads the way regarding the% of soybean acreage in the higher categories with 74% rated “good-to-excellent”, followed by Illinois and Minnesota at 66%, and Iowa at 63%. North and South Dakota, Ohio and Indiana all had a 54 to 59% of the soybeans rated in the “good-to-excellent” category. The only Midwestern State with a very low “good-to-excellent” rating was Nebraska at 43%. Nationally, 15% of the soybean crop was listed as “poor-to-very poor”, including 28% of the soybeans in Nebraska.

For additional information contact Kent Thiesse, farm management analyst and senior vice president, MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, Minn., at 507-381-7960 or kent.thiesse@minnstarbank.com.