KANSAS CITY — As the 2019 spring wheat harvest lumbered to a close, the corn and soybean harvests were about a quarter completed and progressing behind the normal pace.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture in its weekly Crop Progress report issued Oct. 15 indicated the spring wheat harvest in the six primary production states was 94% completed by Oct. 13. Having advanced a mere three percentage points from the previous week, the harvest remained well behind last year, when combining was completed by Sept. 23, and behind 100% as the recent five-year average for the date.
The delays in spring wheat harvest can be traced to a wet spring and wet fall in many spring wheat-growing areas of the northern Plains and Upper Midwest areas.
Winter 2019 brought elevated snowfall totals that led to heightened spring runoff that forced many creeks and rivers out of their banks. South Dakota was particularly affected by high waters that spilled over banks and in some cases deposited huge chunks of ice in farmers’ fields. Livestock, fences and farm equipment were damaged or destroyed in some cases.
Heavy spring runoff left some fields muddy well into typical spring wheat planting season in some areas. Frequent rains and continued cold temperatures allowed only short windows for fields to dry down and producers to seed wheat.
This fall, producers were able to harvest a significant portion of the crop in a timely fashion before rains returned with great volume and frequency. Harvesting then proceeded in fits and starts as the region received up to six times the normal amount of rainfall for September. After several weeks of frequent delays, quality deterioration of ripe spring wheat remaining in fields began to concern the market. Durum wheat was especially affected as more of the crop remained in fields and the rains began to strip the crop of its color.
The U.S.D.A. indicated that spring wheat harvest by Oct. 13 was 93% completed in North Dakota (100% as the 2014-18 average for the date), 98% in Minnesota (100%), and 97% in Washington (100%). Furthest behind normal was Montana at 88% harvested, behind 97% both a year earlier and as the average for the date. Idaho and South Dakota wrapped up their harvests earlier.
Much of what remained in fields might not be combined at all due to its poor quality and the difficulty of collecting it. A snowstorm recently moved across the region, further compromising the crop.
“A large portion of it will probably end up staying in the fields, but it also depends on crop insurance,” said Erica Olson, market development and research manager with North Dakota Wheat Commission. “The areas that got significant snow, who knows when they can get back in the field, and if there is any harvest on the remainder, we can only expect that it would be feed-quality wheat at this point.”
The 2019 harvest of soybeans was also behind the normal pace following a broad range of seeding dates. The U.S.D.A. indicated harvesting was 26% completed by Oct. 13 in the 18 principal production states, behind 37% in 2018 and 49% as the recent five-year average for the date.
Among the key states, harvesting by Oct. 13 was 16% completed in North Dakota (67% as the average progress), 13% in South Dakota (57%), 28% in Nebraska (47%), 19% in Minnesota (62%), 17% in Iowa (43%), 27% in Illinois (55% as average), 30% in Indiana (47%), 36% in Ohio (48%) and 51% in Arkansas (60%).
Snow and harvest delays may lower the quality of the soybean crop, but “plain and simply, soybeans just don’t have as many quality factors when it comes to selling the commodity,” Ms. Olson said.
Mold may be a factor, as might damage from heavy snow knocking down the plants. By Oct. 13, the soybean condition rating for the 18 major states remained mostly good-to-excellent at 54%, compared with 66% a year ago.
Meanwhile, the corn harvest overall was further behind normal than the soybeans harvest and was proceeding at less than half the average pace in several key states. The U.S.D.A. indicated the corn harvest in the 18 major growing states was 22% completed by Oct. 13, advancing seven percentage points in the latest week. Overall progress was behind 38% completed a year earlier and 36% as the recent five-year average for the date.
Harvest completion by Oct. 13 was 20% in Nebraska (24% as the recent five-year average), 7% in Iowa (20%), 23% in Illinois (59%), 24% in Indiana (41%), 16% in Ohio (27%), 3% in Wisconsin (14%), 5% in Minnesota (19%), 5% in South Dakota (19%) and 1% in North Dakota (12%).
Weather in Iowa in the first week of October epitomized some of the challenges facing growers. Some drier weather allowed the state’s farmers a little more than three days to do fieldwork, but wet conditions remained an issue, and Iowa experienced its first hard freeze, marking the end of the growing season.
The majority of the corn crop remained in good-to-excellent condition: 55% on Oct. 13 in the 18 states, with 30% rated fair and 15% rated poor to very poor. The crop was 96% dented, behind 100% a year earlier and as the recent five-year average, and 73% mature compared with 96% in 2018 and 92% as the 2014-18 average for the date.