Largely beautiful harvest conditions have greeted producers in the eastern Corn Belt early in October after a prolonged period of heat with limited rain. Yet even though drought is creeping into places such as Illinois and Iowa, weather patterns suggest moisture is in store later this year.
Already in the first week of October, rain brought relief to states including Missouri and Illinois.
“We’ve completely flipped the script,” says Jeff Doran, business meteorologist at Planalytics. Many farmers in the heart of corn and soybean country faced excessive rain and soggy fields early in the growing season, but those conditions have given way to a pristine field environment.
That's not to say everyone is high and dry. In states such as Nebraska, some farmers have been inundated with rain that has kept them out of the field and raised the threat of some crops rotting in the field.
Some models suggest the first freeze of the season in much of the Corn Belt will occur two to four weeks later than normal, he adds.
“This is really a continuation of a very cooperative Mother Nature as you head further into the harvest season,” Doran says.
Steady Progress. As of Oct. 3, 17% of the corn crop had been harvested, behind the average, while 22% of the soybean crop had been harvested, the fastest pace in five years, says Sterling Smith, agricultural commodity application specialist at Bloomberg.
The conditions are a breath of fresh air in an otherwise challenging commodity-price environment. Although prices aren’t expected to soar in 2018, the markets might gain a little balance.
“Unless we see big changes, 2018 will probably be more of the same,” Smith says. “We’ll at least see some stabilization.”
That type of stability has been sorely lacking at numerous elevators in the Corn Belt, where producers have seen dismal basis this fall. In eastern Nebraska, for example, basis stood at 49 cents below the board, putting cash corn at about $3, Smith says. In southern Minnesota, basis sat 62 cents under the board, the lowest level in years, leaving cash corn under $3.
The state of Illinois also has seen a fair amount of harvest drama with lots of grain and limited avenues for delivery.
“We’re seeing old-crop corn being moved into the elevator system right in front of harvest here,” Smith says. “Elevators are getting plugged with grain. There are not a lot of places to go, and there’s not that strong of demand for it.”
Although corn has a challenging storyline, it’s not all bad news. Brazil and Argentina have signaled they might plant less first-crop corn this year and more soybeans, which could give U.S. corn an edge in the marketplace.
“That could provide a little bit of a lift as we move into spring,” Smith says. “The rains for planting have been a little spotty, reservoirs are running low and concern is developing about how much moisture we’re going to have.”
Field Conditions. Meanwhile in the U.S., the forecast suggests dry conditions producers in the Corn Belt have experienced this fall will give way to wetter ones as the fall ends and winter begins. Analog seasons include 1996, 2005, 2007 and 2011, Doran says.
“We think there is the potential for really strong cold as we head later in the fall and early in the wintertime,” he says.
During October, warmer-than-normal temperatures are expected east of the Mississippi River. The Rockies and the Pacific Northwest will see sooler-than-normal conditions.
In November, drier conditions will stretch across the southern U.S. while colder weather will move in across that region as well as the western U.S. An earlier snow season could unfurl across portions of the Midwest with greater precipitation than normal.
Then in December, Doran explains, warm and dry conditions are expected across much of the South with colder conditions in Nebraska, the Dakotas and Minnesota. Above-average snowfall is possible across the northern tier of the U.S. stretching from Missouri to Maine and across the Great Lakes.