Corn and soybean planting across much have the Upper Midwest has progressed at a fairly rapid pace during late April and the first ten days of May. Most areas have avoided the periods of excess rainfall and prolonged wet field conditions that greatly slowed spring planting progress in many areas in both 2018 and 2019. The planting progress in 2021 across southern Minnesota and Iowa is on a similar pace to last year, when a large majority of the corn and soybeans were planted in the last half of April and early May.
Crop producers in most areas of the U.S. have been planting corn, soybeans and other crops at a very fast pace. The weekly USDA National Ag Statistics Service crop progress report on May 3 showed that 46 percent of the anticipated U.S. corn crop was planted by May 2, which was an increase of 29 percent from the previous week. This represented the largest weekly increase in U.S. corn planting progress since 2015. By comparison, 48 percent of the U.S. corn was planted by the same date in 2020 and the 5-year average is 36 percent of the corn planted by May 2. The May 10 crop progress report is likely to show continued rapid progress with the planting of the 2021 U.S. corn and soybean crop.
Iowa lead the way on May 2, with 69 percent of the anticipated 2021 corn crop planted, which compared to only 20 percent planted a week earlier. Iowa had 72 percent of the corn planted by that date in 2020, with both 2020 and 2021 being well above the 5-year average of 45 percent of the corn planted by May 2. Similarly, Minnesota had 60 percent of the expected 2021 corn acres planted by May 2, which was an increase from 18 percent a week earlier and is well above the 5-year average of 32 percent; however, it trails the 71 percent planted acres in 2020. The 2021 corn planting progress in other major corn-producing states on May 2 included Illinois at 54 percent, Indiana at 32 percent, Nebraska at 42 percent, Ohio at 22 percent, Wisconsin at 27 percent, South Dakota at 25 percent and North Dakota at 14 percent, all of which were above the 5-year (2016-2020) average planting progress by that date.
The May 2 NASS report showed 24 percent of the 2021 U.S. soybean crop planted, compared to 21 percent planted in 2020 and a 5-year average of 11 percent. Iowa had 43 percent of the anticipated 2021 soybean acres planted by May 2, compared to 41 percent in 2020 and a 5-year average of 14 percent. Minnesota had 23 percent of the anticipated soybean crop planted by May 2, which compares to 31 percent in 2020 and a 5-year average of 9 percent. The 2021 soybean planting progress in other states included Illinois at 41 percent, Indiana at 24 percent, Nebraska at 20 percent, Ohio at 17 percent, Wisconsin at 16 percent, South Dakota at 8 percent and North Dakota at 2 percent, most of which are well above the 5-year average soybean planting progress rates.
Historically, early planting of corn usually results in higher-than-normal state average corn yields in Minnesota. In six of the eight years that 50 percent or more of the state’s corn acres have been planted in April, Minnesota has set a record corn yield. In 2015, corn planting in Minnesota was 83 percent completed by May 3, resulting in a record yield of 188 bushels per acre, which was followed with 89 percent of the corn planted by May 8 in 2016, again resulting in another record statewide corn yield of 193 bushels per acre. One exception was in 2017, when most of the Minnesota’s corn was planted in the first two weeks of May. Very favorable growing conditions throughout the year in most areas resulted in statewide record corn yield of 194 bushels per acre in 2017. The common denominator in the exceptional corn yield years in Minnesota has been that a majority of the state’s corn crop was planted by the end of April or in early May, which has occurred again in 2021.
Soil conditions this spring have been described as “almost ideal for corn planting” by farm operators and agronomists in many areas Upper Midwest, which has allowed farmers to move directly to soybean planting once they finished corn planting. Most soybean producers in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa strive to plant soybeans from late April until mid-May in order to optimize yields; however, the ideal window to plant soybeans and still achieve very satisfactory yields is much wider than with corn. Similar to corn planting dates, research does show that with favorable growing conditions, there is a yield advantage to planting soybeans in late April or early May as opposed to planting in late May.
Much cooler-than-normal soil temperatures have been the biggest crop production concern in late April and early May. The 24-hour average soil temperatures at the University of Minnesota Research and Outreach Center near Waseca on April 7 and 8 was near 60 degrees F at the 2-4-inch level and above 50 degrees F at the 8-inch level. By mid-April, average soil temperatures at all levels had dropped below 50 degrees and only rose into the low-to mid-50s a few times in the rest of April, which greatly slowed the germination and emergence of the newly planted corn and soybeans in some areas. A few warmer days in early May have pushed soil temperatures close to the levels that existed back in early April and has resulted in improved soil conditions.
Research shows that 50 percent corn emergence will occur in 20 days at an average soil temperature of 50 degrees, which is reduced to only 10 days with an average soil temperature of 60 degrees F. The forecast for temperatures will certainly provide for favorable conditions for corn and soybean germination and seedling growth. Much of the corn in the Upper Midwest that was planted from April 15 to 20 has just started to emerge from May 6 to 10, which emphasizes the cooler than normal soil temperatures across the region in recent weeks. Much of the region has also been receiving lower than normal amounts of rainfall this spring, as well. The Research Center in Waseca received only .62 inch of precipitation in April and less than .30 inch since May 1, which is about 3 inches below normal for that period.
Drought concerns increase
Continued dryer-than-normal weather remains a concern in many areas of the northern and western Corn Belt, as well as most areas of the Plains states. The U.S. Drought Monitor on May 4 listed over 46 percent of the United States in either a moderate, severe, extreme or exceptional drought, primarily in the Western half of the country. This is only the fourth time since USDA has been tracking drought data that the U.S. drought index has been at that high of level in May. Nearly the entire state of North Dakota, northern South Dakota and eastern Montana are listed as being under an extreme drought, as is most of the southwest U.S. from California to west Texas. Much of Nebraska, Iowa, southern Minnesota and Wisconsin are listed as abnormally dry to a moderate drought.
According to USDA data, 26 percent of the U.S. corn production area is currently in some level of drought, as well as 22 percent of the soybean production area and 35 percent of the primary wheat production area. In addition, 36 percent of the cattle producing area of the U.S. is in moderate to extreme drought conditions, which is especially critical in the beef cow/calf production areas of North and South Dakota. Recent rainfall events in the Upper Midwest have been quite spotty, with fairly modest precipitation amounts. The spring levels of many rivers and streams in the region are at the lowest levels in several years. Once corn and soybeans germinate and emerge, drought is usually not a major concern until late June and July, when corn is growing rapidly and reaches the tasseling and pollination stage. This will certainly bear watching in 2021, especially in the extremely dry areas of the Upper Midwest that have very limited stored soil moisture.