Huge crop or early frost: Race is on

This corn stand near Bellville, Ohio, looked good June 27, despite much of Ohio getting hammered by rain. The corn was about 4 feet tall.

When I walked into Dr. Waid’s office a few days ago, he greeted me as the farm boy he once was: “How do you like this autumn?”

I laughed. He was right. It has felt like autumn all summer.

September is my favorite month, and I have had three months of it already. If you are a corn grower, you wonder if you could just get a little of this global warming so many people are talking about!

Today it is supposed to be 82 degrees, and most days in the seven-day forecast are supposed to be 80 or so for highs. Finally!

I would get excited that we have a chance to catch up some heat units, until I remember that this is August. This is the month we normally see high 80s and worry that the temperatures are too high.

The farmers in the Western Corn Belt are happy. There, the crop is ahead of normal and the temperatures are mild for them, which means they are not triple digits and they are not worried about hurting their record crops.

Not so in Ohio, where even some normally great ground in the northwest part of the state has late, short corn. In Northeast Ohio, the temperatures have been lovely for soybeans and much too cool for corn.

The beans have sucked up the generous rains and flourished, but they need less sunlight. The corn is green and lush and looks great, although with some drowned spots and some up and down. It just looks like the end of July instead of the last third of August.

Field reports

Some of this is appearing in the early returns from what we call the Crop Tour, sponsored by Pro Farmer. The eastern leg started in Columbus Aug. 18, and is in Indiana and Illinois today (Tuesday). The early impressions are contradictory.

The tour participants are estimating the Ohio corn yield at 182 bpa versus 172 last year. However, they note that the maturity is lagging. This is credited to the late spring, but if they had lived here this summer they would have thought more about the cool weather.

USDA, meanwhile, is shaving the crop rating to 72 percent good and excellent, down just 1 percent from last week. That is still a near-record, but the same observers are conflicted about the stage of growth.

They say 70 percent of the U.S. crop is in the dough state, ahead of the five-year average of 63 percent. However, they report 22 percent of the crop dented, while 27 percent is the average.

I confess, this confuses me a bit. Which is it? Are we ahead or behind? How can we be ahead in dough stage and behind in dent?

The Pro Farmer tour puts the pod counts in both the east and the west as better than last year. They counted 1342.42 in Ohio versus 1283.61 last year. I have forgotten what size the square is they are counting.

(Add that to the long list of things I have forgotten. I am still hanging on to my anniversary, but maybe that was because I got a major reminder this year when that milestone hit 40. I have so far resisted parking in the “Senior Only” spot in the church lot, but one day when my knee is particularly ouchy I might give in.)

Exports lagging

It is not helping prices that the market thinks the crops are great and that exports have lagged. This last week we exported 38.2 million bushels of corn, but we need to do 64.2 million to maintain the USDA-projected pace.

Soybeans were reported at only 2.1 million bushels exported versus a need 18 million. That is a little ugly, and in the case of beans probably reflects the processor demand, which still keeps prices for the old crop beans more than $2 premium to the new crop.

December corn futures have spent five days above the last low. That came at 3.58 on Aug. 12. This morning (the 19th) we are trading just under 3.71.

The November soybean futures put the low in on the 14, at 10.38-3/4. They bounced off the low, getting to 10.69 the next day.

However, based on the high yields observed in the Crop Tour as much as anything, they are down almost 7 cents this morning at 10.51.

Crunch time

There are a lot of hard decisions to be made in the next month or so. Farmers have old crop corn to move, and some are planning to carry it over rather than sell at these prices. It is hard to argue against that if there is space to be had. If the crops get to maturity and yield well, space may be tight.

If we confirm a huge crop with early harvest, the lows are not yet in. If we have an early frost, we will feel like suckers for selling anything and will scramble to find #2YC to fill contract.

Keep a good supply of Tums on hand…

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