Focus on Ag: Harvest season underway in many areas

Kent Thiesse
Farm Management Analyst
Kent Thiesse

The warm late growing season during September has pushed the 2022 corn and soybean crop very rapidly toward maturity. By the end of the month, soybean harvest was 50 percent or more completed in many portions of Upper Midwest, while some areas still needed a bit more time for soybeans to fully mature. Many corn hybrids had also reached physiological maturity by late September and were also ready to be harvested; however, some producers are hoping for some significant field dry-down of the corn prior to harvest.

As of Sept. 28, a total of 2,629 growing degree units (GDU’s) had been accumulated since May 1 at the University of Minnesota Southern Research and Outreach Center at Waseca, which is comparable to many areas of Southern Minnesota and Northern Iowa. This will be the final 2022 GDU count at Waseca, as that location received the first freezing temperatures of the year on Sept. 28. The 2022 GDU accumulation at Waseca exceeded the normal GDU accumulation by 5 percent; however, the 2022 total trailed the 2021 GDU accumulation in late September by 121 GDU’s. The extra growing degree units, combined with dry weather in September, helped this year’s corn and soybean crop reach maturity, as well as to dry down rapidly in the field.

Most soybeans have now reached maturity and soybean harvest has been underway for the past couple of weeks in many locations across Southern Minnesota and Northern Iowa. As expected, soybean yields have been highly variable across the Upper Midwest due to differing impacts from rainfall amounts and timeliness of rainfall in many locations, as well as moderate to severe drought conditions in Nebraska, Kansas, and portions of Southern South Dakota and Western Iowa. Generally, the soybean yields have been average or above and much more consistent in South Central and Southeast Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the eastern half of Iowa, as well as in Illinois and Indiana. Soybean yields in other areas have been highly variable depending on the growing season rainfall. Soybean yields in areas impacted by drought have been well below the crop insurance APH (average) yields.

Most of the corn in the Upper Midwest has reached physiological maturity, which is the “black layer” stage, or is very close to reaching maturity. Corn is usually at 30-32 percent moisture when it reaches the “back layer” stage, and then begins to dry down naturally in the field. Ideally, growers like to see corn dried down in the field to at least 20-22 percent moisture, or lower, before they harvest the corn. This greatly saves on corn drying costs and improves the quality of the corn being harvested and going into storage. Corn is usually dried down to a final moisture content of 15-16 percent moisture for safe storage on the farm until the following summer.

Corn will dry down about 0.50% per day naturally at an average daily temperature of 60 degrees F, which increases considerably at higher temperature levels, such as have existed in recent weeks. At Waseca, the normal daily average air temperature in September is above 60 degrees, but that drops to only about 48 degrees during October. If favorable drying weather continues in the coming weeks, it is likely that corn drying costs in many areas will be greatly reduced in 2022. The moisture content on much of the corn being harvested in many areas has dropped considerably during the last half of September and is now 25 percent or lower.

It is a bit early to project 2022 corn yields across the Midwest; however, early indications are that corn yields in many areas will just as variable as the soybean yields. In portions of the Upper Midwest that had timely and adequate rainfall during the growing season, 2022 corn yields may end up average or above average. However, in those areas that missed the timely rainfalls, corn yields will likely be reduced, with yields well below APH levels in the areas that were impacted by drought conditions in 2022. Based on the Sept. 12 USDA Crop Report, favorable 2022 average corn yields (Bu/A.) were projected in Illinois (204), Iowa (200), Minnesota (190), Indiana (186), Wisconsin (183) and North Dakota (141). Less favorable corn yields were projected for Nebraska (176) and South Dakota (138), which are both well below recent state average yields.

USDA Grain Stocks Report decreases corn supply

The Sept. 30 USDA Grain Stocks Report surprised most grain marketing analysts, being especially “bullish” for future corn markets and basically “bearish” for soybean markets. Grain stock estimates for corn were 8 percent lower than pre-report estimates by grain traders, while soybean stocks were somewhat higher than early estimates and wheat stocks came in close to the anticipated projections. Following the USDA report, December corn futures on the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) increased by 8 cents per bushel, while November soybean futures declined by 46 cents per bushel. Wheat futures were also stronger following the report, due to USDA adjusting the estimated 2022 U.S. wheat production downward by 133 million bushels from the August estimate.

The biggest surprise in the Grain Stocks Report on Sept. 30 was the estimated total U.S. corn stocks at 1.377 billion bushels, which was 120 million bushels lower that the pre-report estimates; however, the 2022 corn stocks on Sept. 1 are still 11 percent higher than the 1.235 billion bushels on Sept. 1, 2021. USDA estimated that 509 million bushels of corn was stored on farms as of Sept. 1, which is up 115 million bushels from a year ago; however, it represents only 36 percent of the total corn stocks. This probably helps to explain the very tight corn basis levels that has existed in recent weeks at local grain elevators and processing plants in many locations.

The latest report implies total corn usage for feed, ethanol, exports, etc., from July 1 to Sept. 30 this year at 2.97 billion bushels, which is up slightly from a year ago. In addition, USDA adjusted the final 2021 U.S. corn production totals downward by 41.4 million bushels from previous estimates, based on reductions in the 2021 harvested acres and the final 2021 U.S. average corn yield. The CBOT December corn futures closing price on Sept. 30, was $6.77 per bushel, compared to Sept. 30 CBOT corn prices of $5.37 in 2021, $3.79 in 2020, $3.88 in 2019, $3.56 in 2018, and $3.55 in 2017.

The USDA soybean stocks estimate of 274 million bushels as of Sept. 1 was just over 10 percent above the average grain trade estimate of 247 million bushels and equaled the highest estimates of marketing analysts. The soybean stocks estimate on Sept. 1 is only 17 million bushels above the U.S. soybean inventory of 257 million bushels a year ago on Sept. 1. Soybean stocks remain at very tight levels compared to recent years prior to 2021. It was estimated that only 63 million bushels of soybeans were stored on farms as of Sept. 1, which represented approximately 22 percent of the total stocks. This again, helps explain the continued strong basis level for cash soybean prices at many grain elevators and processing plants.

The biggest reason for the higher soybean stocks in the latest USDA report was an increase in the final 2021 U.S. soybean production of 30 million bushels, based on additional harvested acres in 2021 and a slightly higher final U.S. average soybean yield last year. Soybean usage for processing, exports, etc., from June 1 to August 31 in 2022 was estimated at 698 million bushels, which is up 36 percent from a year earlier but still trails the soybean usage level of 858 million bushels in 2020. The CBOT November soybean futures price closed at $13.65 per bushel on Sept. 30, compared to $12.56 in 2021, $10.23 in 2020, $9.06 in 2019, $8.45 in 2018, and $9.68 in 2017.

The USDA Grain Stocks Report listed total U.S. wheat stocks at 1.776 billion bushels on Sept. 1, which is nearly the same as a year ago on Sept. 1. The implied usage of U.S. wheat from June 1 to August 31 this year was 543 million bushels, which was down 24 percent from a year ago It was estimated that 591 million bushels of wheat were in on-farm storage on Sept. 1, which is 41 percent higher than a year ago. Both CBOT wheat futures prices and local wheat prices have remained at quite high levels in recent weeks compared to recent years prior to 2021, due to continued tight supply levels and solid wheat demand. The strong wheat prices are likely to continue into 2023, given the reductions in the projected 2022 U.S. wheat production and the prolonged drought conditions in many primary production areas for winter wheat.

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.