An early season blast of cold and snow whipped through the heartland Nov. 26, halting what has been a challenging harvest for many growers in both Michigan and Wisconsin. The winter storm, which dropped upwards of 8 inches across the middle of Lower Michigan and into the Thumb region, coincided with USDA’s last crop progress report of the year. The report confirmed what most growers already knew, harvest was later and longer than the last five-year average. The warm-up over Thanksgiving weekend allowed some farmers to finish up, while others planted cover crops.
“It’s been a tough year,” says Tom Urban, vice president of GreenStone Farm Credit Services. “The spring was too wet, the summer was too dry and the harvest long, cold, wet and capped off with an early snow leaving more than a few acres still left to harvest. However, I am confident our farmers will gather the rest of the crop and customers are reporting strong yields. Coupled with lower commodity prices, GreenStone shares our customer’s concerns about how this year is going to turn out. As our members report year-end financial statements we will gain a better understanding of the impact of this season on their operations.”
In Michigan, corn harvest is 82% complete, slightly behind last year’s 83% and the five-year average of 84%. Soybeans are 89% harvested, trailing last year’s 94% competition and the five-year average of 97%. Sugar beet harvest is 95% complete, off from last year’s tally of 99% and the five-year average of 100%. Winter wheat was 87% emerged, considerably behind the 97% emergence last year.
In Wisconsin, corn harvested for grain was 88% complete, 2 days ahead of the 5-year average. Soybeans harvest was 94% complete, 5 days behind last year and 11 days behind the average. Ninety-three percent of the winter wheat crop has emerged, 11 days behind last year.
According to the Wisconsin Nov. 26 USDA crop report, melting frost on the weekend after Thanksgiving, left soils “a wet mess for those still trying to complete fall fieldwork.” A few Wisconsin reporters said that some harvest of corn and soybeans may be prevented by wet field conditions, while others said fall tillage would be prevented.
Nationally, and as of Nov. 25, 94% of corn is harvested, compared to the five-year average of 96%, and 94% of soybeans are harvested, compared to 98% on average.
Jim Zook, Corn Marketing Program of Michigan (CMPM) executive director, calls the Michigan harvest challenging. “The rain and snow has created saturated soils, resulting in the harvesting equipment forming ruts; we will see the negative effects of this over the next few seasons.”
Farmers will be looking for ways to rectify field compaction, which could include changing cropping decisions for 2019, Zook says. “It will depend on how cold it will get, and if that drives frost down deep to break up compaction,” he explains. “If that doesn’t happen, farmers will rely on tillage more aggressively. Even if you don’t visibly see it, there is damage done underneath.”
A look at yields
Despite the trouble getting the crop off, yields have been very good – at or just above average, Zook adds. “We are seeing quality challenges in the mid-section of the state to the East Coast from border through the thumb,” he says.
Corn acreage in Michigan was up 100,000 acres to 2.35 million acres. During the Michigan Between the Rows tour in August, staff from the CMPM took more than 375 yield samples across 32 counties and found a wide-range of yields, even within the same county. For instance, Branch County had an average of 168.2 bushels per acre, but yields ranged between 73 and 221 bushels per acre. Van Buren County was similar, with an average of 150.8 bushels per acre, but with a low of 78 and a high of 213 bushels per acre.
Statewide, the weighted corn yield during the tour was 169.4 bushels per acre. USDA in early November predicted Michigan’s average corn yield up 7 bushels from last year to 166 bushels per acre. Total production is expected to be 315 million bushels. If realized, the Michigan corn yield would be a record high. Zook says he’s, “not sure I’m buying it. I think the crop will come in below last year,”
According to Gail Frahm, executive director of the Michigan Soybean Promotion, 2.29 million acres of soybeans are expected to be harvested with average yields predicted at 48 bu/acre, up 5.5 bushels from last year. Statewide, that would create 110 million bushels – a new record for Michigan.
Wisconsin corn production is forecast at 531 million bushels with an average 177 bushels per acre (up three bushels from last year), according to the latest USDA’s November crop report. If realized, this will be Wisconsin’s second largest corn production, trailing only 2016’s 573 million bushels.
An estimated 3 million acres will be harvested for grain.
Wisconsin’s soybean harvest is expected to hit a record 107 million bushels on 2.19 million acres to be harvested. The yield is forecast at 49 bushels per acre.
The USDA’s final 2018 corn and soybean production totals will be out in January, along with updated winter wheat production outlooks.
Crop and hogs survey coming
NASS will be conducting its end-of-season surveys on crops and hogs during the first two weeks in December. As farmers wrap up the 2018 growing season, NASS will conduct a series of surveys to determine final state and county level acreage, yield, and production for crops, as well as grain storage capacity and grain stocks on hand. NASS is also asking pork producers about this year’s farrowings, pig crop and current inventory. County level acreage, yield and production estimates are used by the Risk Management Agency to administer its crop insurance programs.