Early Signals From 2019’s US Crop Progress Reports

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It’s early days for the weekly Crop Progress reports, which the USDA began publishing for the current season this month. Still, some themes have begun to emerge that will affect yields, especially for winter crops like wheat and early-sown crops such as oats, barley, and spring wheat. Wet conditions persist after heavy winter snows and two strong spring storms.

Soil moisture across the Corn Belt is very well supplied, and many areas have a surplus of moisture. The moisture benefits vegetative growth in crops like winter wheat, which was planted last fall. Crop condition ratings for winter wheat are the highest they’ve been in mid-April in seven years. The USDA described 60% of the national winter wheat crop in good to excellent condition, while just 9% was deemed poor to very poor. By comparison, 31% of last year’s winter wheat crop was labeled good to excellent at the same point in the season, and 37% was in poor to very poor condition. Such favorable condition ratings for this year’s winter wheat suggest the crop is off to a good start, but the most critical growing season still lies ahead. Gro’s US winter wheat model projects a yield of 40.76 bushels per acre, slightly below the 10-year historical trend.

Wet conditions in the northern US have kept planting of spring sown crops limited so far. Oats and barley, which normally are 40% and 20% planted, respectively, at this point in the year, are running behind. Spring wheat planting, which on average over the past five years was 13% completed as of April 14, was just 2% completed this year. Montana’s USDA NASS bureau cites “high soil moisture and muddy conditions.” Idaho is cool and wet, and Minnesota saw blizzard conditions halt field activity last week. Oats, barley, and spring wheat planting have barely started in Minnesota, South Dakota and Montana. The pace of planting in Idaho is just half of its normal rate. In South Dakota, 30% of the spring wheat and oat crops are normally planted by April 14th; this year, none has been planted. NASS-designated days suitable for fieldwork in South Dakota have been just 0.1 in each of the past two weeks, and top-soil moisture levels are excessive in 47% of the cropland.

Key corn and soybean crop planting won’t ramp up until May. But with soil moisture levels high in most of the Corn Belt, and a second “bomb cyclone” crossing the Midwest just last week, planting risks are elevated this year. Planting delays are already showing up in some early-sown crops, and the situation will gain increased focus as we move into May. Planting delays can affect corn yields and force acreage shifts to other crops like soybeans.

The chart on the left below shows the 2019 winter wheat condition ratings (green line) in the good-to-excellent range compared with historical levels (blue lines). The right chart shows the spring wheat planting pace since 1986 (blue lines). So far in 2019 (green line), just 2% of the crop has been planted nationally.

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