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Potential Exists For An Early Frost & Green Corn Belt Not Looking So Green in 2019

Update for July 10th, 2019

From space the typically rich green region from Ohio to North Dakota known as the Corn Belt appears a lifeless brown belt when viewed from satellite images according to a report from the Washington Post. Scott Irwin an economist from the University of Illinois told the Post that corn and soybean fields look more like a “war zone” because essentially, “Everything that could go right went perfect for growing corn and soybeans last year. This year has been pretty much the opposite. So far, everything that can go wrong has gone wrong.” Irwin added, “What corn got planted in June, a lot of it was in terrible conditions. They normally never would have planted corn in ground that was that wet.” Laura Lindsey a soybean specialist from Ohio State University, has tested crop yields for several years and has found that soybeans are highly sensitive to late planting. When Lindsey toured Ohio soybean country on June 25th she found many empty fields and those that were emerged she described as, “anemic little things with little potential to produce a load of legumes”. 40 years of data from the Agriculture Department confirms that corn and soybean crops this year are further behind than they have ever been before at this point of the growing season.

The satellite views below are from south-central Illinois, part of the region Irwin was referring to when he described the U.S. Corn Belt to a war zone. As you compare the two images (on the left from 2018 and on the right 2019) keep in mind that most of the land in 2019 has been planted to either corn or soybeans but still remains brown. The unplanted fields and those struggling to survive all have two similarities, they look brown from space and both mean a smaller harvest than producers had ever expected.

Sources: NASA MODIS imagery was composited using Google Earth Engine, white pixels depicted in the imagery are cloud cover. The mean vegetation-condition index comes from the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Crop progress data also comes from NASS and is as of the week ending June 30. Planting figures begin in 1980, emergence figures begin in 1999. It covers 18 major farming states and the vast majority of the crop. Sentinel 2 satellite imagery via the European Space Agency was used for the Springfield comparison

This week’s crop conditions ratings for corn saw a1% improvement from the previous week bringing the total Good to Excellent categories to 57%. There were a few notable changes from last week:

  • Illinois GD/EX rating fell by -5% to 37% vs 81% last year.

  • Iowa GD/EX categories were reduced by -3% to 61% vs 78% a year ago.

  • Missouri also saw a decline in GD/EX to 28%.

  • Indiana fell to 38% GD/EX.

The states showing the best conditions but still falling way below last year’s conditions rating:

  • North Dakota and Tennessee with 79% GD/EX

  • Nebraska 76% GD/EX

  • Kentucky 75% GD/EX

The states of Colorado, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Texas are the only states that are currently seeing better corn crop conditions than a year ago. The current stage of development has many thinking that the last week in July and the first week of August will likely be when most pollination will take place. The long-term weather outlooks now beginning to reach that pollination window.

Traders had been expecting a small improvement in this week’s USDA’s soybean conditions report but instead saw a -1% reduction in GD/EX from 54% to 53%, this compares to 71% a year ago. A few states that saw the biggest adjustments:

  • Illinois saw another -6% loss in the GD/EX rating which is now 37% vs 72% last year.

  • Ohio sits at 27% GD/EX vs 75% in 2018.

  • Missouri is 35% GD/EX

  • Indiana 37%

  • Only the states of Louisiana and North Carolina have higher GD/EX ratings than they did a year ago.

Thursday the USDA will give us their monthly supply and demand numbers. The trade is assuming that this report will use the latest planted acres estimate of 91.7 million and not the 89.8 million used in the June supply and demand report. They also don’t look for any further adjustments in tomorrow’s report to the estimated yield of 165 bu. per acre. As with corn they don’t believe there will be any change made from the latest report of 80 million planted soybean acres.

The EPA has decided to not reallocate any of the biofuel levels due to small refiner exemptions. Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa is unhappy with the EPA’s decision, “It’s unacceptable that the EPA would set biofuel volumes below demand at a time when farmers, biofuels producers and agribusiness owners are forced to shed jobs and close plants. I urge President Trump to compel EPA to reverse course and keep his word to the forgotten Americans who have faithfully stood with him.”

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are scheduled to talk by phone with Chinese vice Premier Liu He this week and a U.S. team of trade negotiators is expected to leave for Beijing soon. There does not seem to be a clear path for the negotiations team to begin their work. The standoff that caused trade talks to break down in May was not resolved at the Osaka summit when President Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping met so it’s unclear exactly where negotiators will begin their discussions. One source told Reuters that there is no indications that China is interested in revisiting the draft agreement they backtracked from last month. Derek Scissors, an expert on China at the American Enterprise Institute, told Reuters “The pressure for one side to give into the other is diffused right now. I expect this to drag out for months.” In the meantime the U.S. soybean industry and farmers are both working together in an attempt to save the Chinese market they have spent decades building. The Wall Street Journal reports that American Trade Association officials and farmers are meeting regularly with Chinese buyers to ensure business can resume once the trade dispute ends.

Weather rarely ceases to capture the attention of producers and 2019 is no exception. This year started with a long and historically wet winter that stretched into early spring delaying the planting season for much of the Corn Belt. Now that temps have finally warmed up many farmers now find themselves concerned with the prospect of hot dry weather during pollination and recent predictions of an early frost. Kirk Heinz and Michael Clark of confirmed those fears on AgriTalk this week. Heinz explained that basically the portion of the country that was the swampiest will be the hottest and driest until at least July 23rd, “Into the Ohio Valley and Tennessee Valley area, if you can envision from there to the desert southwest with a void in the middle from tropical storm Barry, that’s where the risk is keeping things to dry.” forecasting models show that the timeframe around July 23rd is when a change in the weather pattern could occur. According to Clark, “That would be the date where we start raising the red flags in term of, if that does not develop, we could see this extended warmer, drier period linger longer, deeper into July and maybe even early August. That’s why it’s a top priority for us.”

Each growing season meteorologists search for other years with atmospheric similarities to current conditions as they look to forecast long-range weather patterns for the remainder of the crop season. Clark explained, “The problem we’re facing is this is the wettest year in the past 124 years according to NASA.” “We try to base our data set off of similar occurrences but it’s hard to do that when it’s number one. Our top years heading in to August for example is 1977. Additionally, 1991, 1993, and 2004 are some other loose fits.” By finding other seasons in which the atmosphere behaved in a comparable manner during that same timeframe “gives us an idea of, based on our forecast methods and some of the historical analogs, that we’re not crazy when we say “hey this should happen”.

When asked about the prospect for an early frost Clark explained, “It’s not a surprise that we have a growing season that started significantly later than when it normally does. So a normal frost date in this kind of scenario may be considered like an early frost or freeze.” The southern oscillation index or pressure changes between Tahiti and Darwin are also used as indicators. “Those can magnify the strength of cold fronts and here in the last two to three weeks, we’ve had 30 and 40 point swings, which is very significant. So that can also be a sign of some pretty strong cold fronts late August early September…”

World Weather Inc. is also seeing a high probability of an early frost this year. Drew Lerner from World Weather said, “We use the lunar cycle, on an 18 year repeating pattern, and it was very obvious. We had 3 analog years, and every one of them had the same wet bias and an alternating cool and warm bias to it.” “This whole cycle that created the wet bias is a repeating pattern that’s not going to go away; it’s going to stay with us. We’ll go through some brief periods of warmer weather, and them we’re going to cool down again and then we’ll go back into the warmth again, but most of the time, we’re going to be cooler bias.” Lerner said their best case scenario is a warm second half of summer but even if that occurs the growing degree units for this crop season are going to fall short of normal and because of this an early frost is Lerner’s biggest concern. “At best we’re going to have a normal frost and freeze. I do not see this growing season being extended, especially in the northern parts of the Midwest. The odds are really high that we’re going to end up with the northern areas finishing out early.”

The 6-10 day outlook shows a drier and warmer than normal pattern across most the Corn Belt which is expected to last into next week.

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