Has the frost card for the northern fringe of the Corn Belt been overplayed? Perhaps.
The $64-question analysts kick around on almost a daily basis is whether corn planted three weeks later than normal will have enough time to mature before it freezes. "Minnesota corn is about seven to 10 days at most behind normal right now," says Jeff Coulter, University of Minnesota extension corn agronomist.
If the state gets an average frost the first week of October, the corn crop won’t be hurt overall, Coulter says. But if a freeze hits around Sept. 22, which occurs every few years, yields could be cut, certainly, but no more than 5% to 7% of their potential on most acres, he estimates. Corn typically requires 55 to 60 days from silking to black layer, and barring an early freeze, he thinks Minnesota corn will achieve that.
What gives? Because of near ideal growing conditions this summer, the state’s corn crop now, while highly variable, has been playing major league catch-up. With the exception of recent dry weather, mid-season growing conditions couldn’t have been better. Heat indexes of around 100 occurred earlier in the summer, allowing rapid growth and catch-up, but prior to pollination, temperatures cooled down and stayed that way, just in the nick of time.
Upshot: "We could get average or 3% to 4% better yields," Coulter says. "It’s possible we could see 170." Normal is near 165. Even though parts of the state are dry and needing rains to optimize yields, the cooler weather in recent weeks means the crop has been using only about 60% to 70% as much moisture as normal.
Ironically, though yields are likely to be higher than last year’s 165, Minnesota production is actually expected to be lower in 2013 than last year, USDA said in its August 12 report. That’s because of record prevented planting acres this spring, near one-third in some areas. So for two straight years, Minnesota will be bucking the national trend, but in decidedly different ways. Last year it bucked trend by being the garden spot of the Corn Belt, literally, with yields of 165.
Soybean yields are still tough to call with key variables up in the air, but average yields in the 42-43 bushel per acre range seems a best bet, says Seth Naeve, U of M extension soybean agronomist. That will require good growing conditions through early September, a couple of timely rains, and no early frost, he adds.
Soybeans were planted two to three weeks late, so they are quite short for this time of year, Naeve notes, not looking great for mid-August. "The paradoxical thing, however, is that some years, short beans do really, really well. It depends on late season growing conditions." He acknowledges that in some years, the full canopy and height absent this year is required so beans can have access to stored protein late in the growing season.
Farmers throughout the United States can participate online by entering their own corn measurements into Pro Farmer’s Virtual Crop Tour tool. Available online during Crop Tour week, each participant will get a personalized yield estimate, expanding Midwest Crop Tour participation to corn growers nationwide.