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Column: Crop Watch - Mild weather supports big yields, though some relief needed

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (Reuters) - Strong yield expectations continue for the U.S. Crop Watch corn and soybeans, but the fields in North Dakota are once again grappling with too much rain, while those in Nebraska and Ohio have not received enough.

Soybeans are harvested from a field on Hodgen Farm in Roachdale, Indiana, U.S. November 8, 2019. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

Elsewhere, rainfall has been favorable for the crops, which are in or entering the yield-formation stage. The producers reported that last week’s temperatures and those expected over the next several days are largely ideal.

Crop Watch 2020 follows one corn and one soybean field in eight major U.S. Corn Belt states, and these are the same eight growers who participated in the 2018 and 2019 versions of Crop Watch. Weekly updates will be issued for these fields through harvest.

Producers have assigned condition scores to their fields using a scale of 1 to 5. The ratings are similar to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s system where 1 is very poor and 5 is excellent, but the Crop Watch condition scores do not incorporate yield assumptions.

The eight-field corn condition average fell to 4.25 from 4.31 as an improvement in Minnesota was outweighed by declines in North Dakota and Nebraska. The soybean average was unchanged at 4.13 after offsetting changes in the Western Corn Belt.

Yield potential is also rated on a 1-to-5 scale. Scores of 1 or 5 represent yields close to or exceeding 15% below or above average, while 2 and 4 are assigned to yields around 5% to 10% from the average. An average yield or one within a couple percentage points would score a 3.

The unweighted, eight-field yield average for corn dropped to 4.22 from 4.25 after a minor reduction in Nebraska. Soybean yield rose slightly to 4.03 from 4.0 as increases in Minnesota and Kansas offset declines in Nebraska and Ohio.


The North Dakota grower reduced corn and soybean conditions by a half-point each to 3 and 2.5, respectively, after more unwanted rain fell last week. Yield scores remain at 2.5 apiece. Up to 3.5 inches (89 mm) of rain fell on the subject fields last week and the producer reports the area may be just as wet or worse than it was this spring. Field work was delayed earlier this year and much of that entailed harvesting last fall’s corn, which had poor quality due to the excess moisture.

The one upside for the North Dakota fields is that the crops are about 10 days ahead of average pace because of this year’s warm weather. Last year’s crops were more than 20 days behind average at this point. The upcoming week of weather looks favorable with slightly warm and dry conditions, which, if realized, could help crops recover.


Both corn and soybean conditions increased a quarter-point to 5. The producer applied fungicide and insecticide to the crops last week, and the fields received more than 2.5 inches (64 mm) of rain early Sunday, which was perfect timing. Corn yield remains at 4.75 and bean yield increased to 4.75 from 4.5 last week. A record crop is not necessarily out of the question, but it is possible that the cool stretch of weather observed in the month after planting caused some minor losses.


The Nebraska producer bumped all scores down a quarter-point after less than half an inch of rain fell this week, bringing both corn scores to 4 and soybeans to 3.75. This season has been very dry, and the number of times the grower has irrigated the corn is already at the top end of what is normal. Low corn prices make the decision to keep running pivots more difficult. Some rain is possible this week, but they are not expected to be the soaking rains the area needs.


The Kansas grower leaves both corn scores at 4, but the soybean scores rise a half-point to 4 after 1.5 inches of rain fell last week. More rain is on tap for this week and temperatures should be largely ideal. The producer says this season’s growing conditions so far may be among the best the area has seen in a decade or more. However, the sorghum could actually use a stretch of heat and drier weather.


Scores are unchanged in Iowa this week with corn yield and condition at 4.5 and both bean ratings at 5. Rainfall was spotty last week, with some fields receiving less than a half inch and others no more than an inch. The crops could use some more rain, but the producer is not yet concerned since temperatures have been and should continue to be favorable. The grower notes that the crops would probably be on pace for a record yield had it not been for the wind storm a couple weeks ago.


All scores remain comfortably at 5 as the crops received 4.5 inches (11.4 cm) of rain last week. Record yields are a strong possibility if favorable weather continues for the next month. The producer reports that a lot of the corn that was replanted earlier this spring is beginning to pollinate, and the conditions are ideal. He replanted a third of his corn acres this year.


The Indiana producer left scores unchanged this week with corn condition and yield both at 4.5. Soybean condition is 3.75 and yield is 3.5. The crops got nearly an inch of rain on Tuesday, and there are more rain chances Monday afternoon. Temperatures should be cool the rest of the week. The producer planted the Crop Watch soybeans on April 6 but had to replant them May 26 after a cold snap in May. He says his earliest-planted beans that survived do not look as good as expected considering the planting date, but beans can be harder to judge, visually.


The producer left condition scores at 4 and corn yield at 4.5, but soybean yield fell a quarter-point to 3.75. The fields received 1 inch of rain on Friday, and temperatures continue to be warm. The warm and dry weather has caused some of the soybean blooms to abort, which could reduce the number of potential pods. The corn will pollinate this week and the temperatures should be supportive, but sufficient rainfall is less certain.

The following are the states and counties of the Crop Watch corn and soybean fields: Griggs, North Dakota; Freeborn, Minnesota; Burt, Nebraska; Rice, Kansas; Cedar, Iowa; Crawford, Illinois; Boone, Indiana; Fairfield, Ohio.

Photos of the 16 Crop Watch fields can be tracked on Twitter using the hashtag #CropWatch20.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a market analyst for Reuters.

Editing by Matthew Lewis