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2013 Ag Review (Part 1)

Written by: Kent Thiesse

As we reach the end of the year, it is a good time to reflect on what happened agriculturally in the region and across the United States in 2013. This will be the first of a two-part article, with a review of 2013 crop production and weather conditions this week, and a review of livestock production, input costs, grain prices and the overall farm economy next week. Following are some highlights regarding crop production and weather conditions for 2013 ……


Crop Production --- 2013 will be remembered as a crop year with weather extremes and highly variable crop conditions in many areas of Minnesota and Iowa. The year started out with later than normal corn planting in most of the region, with a major snow storm impacting much of Southeastern Minnesota and Northeast Iowa in early May. As a result, a large amount of corn acres in those regions were planted in late May or early June, with thousands prevented planted corn acres in several counties. Soybean planting dates in that region were delayed until mid-to-late June, with some planting dates extending into early July. Planting dates in Southwest Minnesota and the western half of South Central Minnesota, as well as adjoining areas of Northern Iowa, were later than normal; however, most corn was planted in May, and most growers finished with soybean planting by early June.


The month of May had 150-200 % of normal rainfall in much of the Southern third of Minnesota, which included some very heavy rainfall events and severe storms in portions of the region that caused some crop loss. The extra rainfall early in the growing season did allow for restoration of stored soil moisture levels to near normal levels in many areas, after being significantly depleted by the 2012 drought. The soil moisture reserves proved to be quite beneficial later in the growing season, which featured well below normal precipitation levels in many areas after mid-June. The later portion of the growing season featured a very warm, dry weather pattern, which lead to some late-season moisture shortages in portions of Western and Central Minnesota . The warmer temperatures in late August and September, together with a later than normal first frost date in most regions, allowed some of the later planted crops to reach maturity, and to have higher than expected yield levels.


In most areas of Southern Minnesota, the 2013 crop yields were highly variable, mainly due to the variability and extremes in weather conditions during the growing season. Whole field corn yields generally ranged from 140-200 bushels per acre, while whole-field soybean yields were mostly in a range from 35-60 bushels per acre, with some exceptional yields exceeding these ranges. There were large yield variations in 2013, sometimes occurring in the same township, on the same farm, or even in the same field. Areas of Southern Minnesota that were able to get their corn and soybeans planted by a reasonable date, avoided the major storms in May and June, and received some beneficial rainfall in August, had the best crop yields. Many portions of Southeastern Minnesota, as well as other areas that were affected by weather problems, had much lower yields in 2013.


Based on the November 8 Crop Report, USDA is estimating the 2013 corn yield in Minnesota at 164 bushels per acre, which is almost the same as the final 2012 Minnesota corn yield of 165 bushels per acre, but is well below Minnesota’s record average corn yield of 177 bushels per acre in 2010. USDA is projecting Iowa to have a 2013 corn yield of 169 bushels per acre, which well above the drought reduced yield of 137 bushels per acre in 2012, but below state record corn yield of 182 bushels per acre in 2008. USDA is estimating the 2013 national average corn yield at 160.4 bushels per acre, which is the highest average yield since 2009, and compares to only 122.3 bushels per acre in 2012.


USDA is estimating the 2013 Minnesota soybean yield at 39 bushels per acre, which is a decrease of 4.5 bushels per acre from the 2012 Minnesota soybean yield of 43.5 bushels per acre, and is well below the State record soybean yield of 45 bushels per acre, set in 2010. The 2013 Iowa soybean yield is estimated at 45 bushels per acre, compared to 44.5 bushels per acre in 2012. USDA is projecting a national average soybean yield of 43.0 bushels per acre in 2013, which compares to 39.6 bushels per acre in the drought year of 2012.


Stored Soil Moisture Improves --- In late Fall of 2012, stored soil moisture levels in most of Southern and Western Minnesota was at historically low levels, with much of the region being categorized as being in an “Extreme Drought” by the National Drought Monitor. By comparison in late Fall of 2013, a much smaller portion of Southwest and West Central Minnesota is listed as being in “Abnormally Dry” or “Moderate Drought” conditions by the National Drought Monitor. At the University of Minnesota Research and Outreach Center at Lamberton, Minnesota, the end of season stored soil moisture in 2013 was listed at 4.20 inches of available moisture in the top five feet of soil. This compares to a normal level of 5.44 inches of available soil moisture, and to only 0.96 inches at the end of the 2012 growing season.


According to precipitation data at the University of Minnesota Southern Research Center at Waseca, that region rebounded nicely from the 2012 drought, receiving a total of nearly 39 inches of precipitation in 2013, as of mid-December. This is about 4.75 inches above the normal annual precipitation at Waseca, and compares to only 26.35 inches of total precipitation in 2012. By comparison, the U of M Research Center at Lamberton had received only 22.33 inches of total precipitation in 2013, through the month of November. This variation in total precipitation in 2013, especially the highly variable rainfall amounts later in the growing season, helps explain the wide range of  corn and soybean yields across Southern Minnesota and Northern Iowa in 2013.