Drought conditions are engulfing even more of the Corn Belt
Until this week, USDA’s Crop Progress reports were showing that parts of the northern Corn Belt, particularly Minnesota and North Dakota and to a lesser degree South Dakota, were managing to escape the 2012 drought. That is no longer true.
According to the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook, released July 19, drought is likely to persist or intensify in the heart of the Corn Belt as it spreads further into Minnesota and North Dakota.
"We are living on the edge," says Frayne Olson, agricultural economist with North Dakota State University, Fargo. "If we don’t get rain soon, we could take yield potential off the corn and soybean crops pretty quickly." If timely rains do arrive, though, Olson is not ruling out trend line yields for North Dakota cornfields.
As of the week ending July 15, 62% of North Dakota’s corn was still rated as good to excellent. And while producers in Indiana, Illinois, and other states in the heartland would love to see similar figures for their states, the crops in North Dakota, Minnesota, and South Dakota are deteriorating rapidly. For the week ending, July 8, North Dakota was showing that 74% of its crop was in good to excellent condition, a drop of 12 percentage points.
The numbers for South Dakota were worse. As of July 15, only 37% of the state’s corn was in good to excellent shape, compared with 60% a week earlier. "The Crop Progress report is finally catching up with the weather conditions the region has been experiencing," says Olson.
The Best in a Bad Year
Minnesota remains the bright spot of the Corn Belt, but conditions there are worsening as well. As of July 15, 67% of Minnesota’s corn was rated good to excellent, down sharply from the previous week’s 77%.
Conditions are spotty in Minnesota, reports agronomist Jeff Coulter, University of Minnesota. "The Twin Cities area and west have been getting timely rains, but in the far southeastern part of the state, the crops are really under drought stress," says Coulter. In southwestern Minnesota, fields have both decent corn as well as pockets of stressed plants, he adds. "Given the limited rainfall we’ve had, it is surprising how good the corn actually looks," he adds. "A lot of the corn is holding on."
At the start of the season, Coulter was expecting a statewide corn yield in Minnesota near 180 bu./acre but has since reduced that to closer to 160 bu./acre. Without rain, kernel desiccation could increase, further reducing yield.
Nationwide, only 31% of the corn was rated as good to excellent, down from 40% a week earlier. This year’s drought is following a typical pattern in which dryness spreads from the southern portion of the country into the Midwest and then into the northern tier of the country. According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor, only small fragmented areas of the country were not experiencing abnormally dry to exceptional drought conditions.
Will Beans Recover?
Soybean condition in the northern Corn Belt is dropping as quickly as corn condition, but the bean crop still has a chance to recover, experts say. In Minnesota, 65% of the soybeans were rated good to excellent as of July 15, compared with 72% the previous week. North Dakota beans were in similar shape, with 62% now in good to excellent shape, compared with 71% the previous week. Only 41% of South Dakota’s beans were rated that well, compared with 59% a week earlier. Nationally, only 34% of the bean crop was in good to excellent condition, down from the previous week’s 40%.
"Trend line soybean yields of about 45 bu./acre are still possible in Minnesota," says Coulter. However, August rains will be critical if soybeans in the northern Corn Belt are to retain their yield potential.
For More Information
Read more news and coverage of the 2012 drought.