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U.S. Crop Tour Suggests Lots of Last-minute Planting in the East


Corn and soybean planting is usually nearing completion in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio by early June. But these major producing states were on a record-slow pace three weeks ago with planting deadlines fast approaching, and many market participants worried that millions of acres could go unplanted as a result.

While the crops in these states are critically behind schedule in terms of development, there is evidence to suggest that more acres may have been planted than some analysts might believe, and many of these fields were likely sown within the last three weeks.

I took a trip through major production regions in these three states between Tuesday and Thursday to observe the state of the fields. The route was designed to see some of the most delayed crops and potentially worst conditions relative to normal in the country to get an idea of how bad it could be.

I drove through northwest Ohio on Tuesday, northern Indiana on Wednesday, and finished in northern Illinois on Thursday. It seemed like more acres were planted than I expected, especially for corn, and my observations had me a bit more worried than before for the soybean crop because so many of those fields were un-emerged or only very recently emerged.

One of the biggest takeaways of the trip is that a lot of fields looked to be planted after June 1, and several even more recently than that. Some were still being planted or awaited planting. But there were not many fields that appeared unplanted except for in far northern Ohio and parts of northeast Illinois.

Chicago corn futures hit contract lows in mid-May, only to rally about 30% by the end of the month as the market realized that a record portion of the U.S. corn crop was still unplanted. There was less concern for soybeans because of the record-large U.S. stockpiles, so the rally sent corn prices to the highest levels relative to soybeans since 2012.

The timing was tricky for farmers because not only are corn and soybean yields often at risk from planting late, but planting deadlines for crop insurance were near, and most of the fields were still saturated from excessive spring rains. The final date to plant corn for full insurance coverage was June 5 in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. The final date for soybeans in the northern third of Illinois was June 15, but Thursday is the final day for the rest of the state plus Indiana and Ohio.

Based on the trip, it appeared as if many farmers along the route planted corn around June 5 and even after, even into very muddy and/or weedy fields, likely inspired by the higher prices and the hopes for a further rise down the road. There are often yield risks when planting into such wet soils, and that could eventually be realized later in the season.

On average, around 70% of the corn on the trip was less than 6 inches (15 cm) tall, indicative of how widespread the delays were.

The planting was especially prominent in Indiana, save a few fields that were super wet just to the northwest of Indianapolis. Most of the crops were extremely small, but about 95% of fields along the route had been sown with something.

In terms of crop conditions, one might say that the newly emerged crops on the route looked good, but they looked more like they should around the first week of May, or even earlier. This is what many market watchers are now struggling with. How will the crops develop going forward? What happens when crops are planted this late? No one knows for sure because there is no precedent for the current situation, but yields typically fall from average levels when development lags so much.

Some fields that were planted earlier than most and then were plagued by rains looked beat up and uneven. Less than 5% of all corn fields on the route were both more than 1 foot (30 cm) tall and lacked unevenness and large drowned out spots.

There were not a ton of fields with visible standing water along the route, but the areas where that was most prominent were north of Columbus, Ohio, south of Chicago, and around Prophetstown, Illinois in the northwest of the state.

As of June 16, the U.S. Department of Agriculture rated 51% of Illinois’ corn crop in good or excellent condition. Indiana’s rating was 50% and Ohio was not much better at 53%. Corn planting progress was 88% complete in Illinois, 84% done in Indiana, and only 68% done in Ohio. All three states should be finished by that date.

Soybean planting was 74% complete in Illinois by June 16. Indiana was 61% done and Ohio just 50%. These three states should be between 95% and 99% finished on that date.

In 2018, Illinois produced 16% of the nation’s corn crop and 15% of the soybeans. The state also had by far the highest yields on both crops compared with the other major producing states. Indiana grew 7% of the corn and 8% of the soybeans last year, while Ohio accounted for 4% and 6%, respectively.

For detailed route maps and photos from my trip, please visit my Twitter feed using the handle @kannbwx.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters. 

Source: Karen Braun, Reuters

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