Rain and Early Snowfall Slows Harvest in Some Areas

October 30, 2023




The 2023 Fall harvest season had been progressing at a fairly nice pace across most of the Upper Midwest from late September until mid-October; however, since that point some areas have experienced substantial rainfall, isolated hailstorms, and even early snowfall in some locations, along with much colder temperatures by the end of October. These conditions have slowed harvest progress in portions of the Upper Midwest. Fortunately, most of the soybeans and a significant amount of corn had been harvested by late-October at many locations. Overall, the corn and soybean yield levels in many areas have been highly variable but the overall quality of this year’s crop has been quite favorable for most producers.

Based on the USDA Crop Progress Report on October 22, it was estimated that 76 percent of the soybeans in the U.S. had been harvested, which was very similar to the 78 percent harvested by that date in 2022 and was above the 5-year average of 67 percent harvested. In the Upper Midwest, South Dakota led the way with 90 percent of the soybeans harvested by October 22, followed by Minnesota at 88 percent, Iowa at 87 percent, North Dakota at 85 percent, and Nebraska at 83 percent. All states were slightly behind soybean harvest progress a year ago in late October but were ahead of the 5-year average progress. Other soybean harvest figures as of October 22 were Illinois at 80 percent, Indiana at 65 percent, Ohio at 64 percent, and Wisconsin, at 69 percent.

It was estimated that 59 percent of the corn in the U.S. was harvested by October 22, which was the same as on that date in 2022 and compares to a 5-year average of 54 percent of the corn harvested. Illinois was the leader in harvested corn acres in the Midwest with 70 percent harvested, followed by Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska, all at 62 percent harvested. Other corn harvest figures in the October 22 report were South Dakota at 48 percent harvested, North Dakota at 45 percent, and Indiana at 42 percent; however, Wisconsin and Ohio had only 26 percent and 20 percent of the corn harvested as of October 22. By comparison, most states, except Wisconsin and Ohio, were similar or slightly ahead of the corn harvest pace a year ago and exceeded the 5-year average level of corn harvested by this date.

Corn harvest in Minnesota has progressed more rapidly in the southwest and west central Minnesota, as well as adjoining areas of eastern South Dakota and western Iowa, with many farmers nearing completion harvest for the 2023 growing season. Corn harvest in the eastern half of Minnesota, especially in southeast Minnesota, eastern Iowa, and Wisconsin has been somewhat slower due to wetter field conditions and having crops that were a bit later maturing. The unexpected early wet snowfall in late October has greatly slowed corn harvest in many areas of North Dakota, northwest Minesota, and some portions of northern South Dakota. Normal planting dates in 2023, together with above normal growing degree units in the summer months in most areas, allowed most corn and soybeans to reach full maturity by the time of the first killing frost.

Overall, the reported soybean yields across the Midwest have been highly variable, mainly due to the limited rainfall during the growing season in a large portion of the region. The term “better-than-expected” was heard a lot when referring to 2023 soybean yields in many portions of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa, meaning that yields exceeded the somewhat dismal expectations, given the limited rainfall in many locations during June and July. Soybean yields were lower in areas that were hard hit by drought conditions this year, such as portions of southwest Iowa, eastern Nebraska and Missouri. On the other hand, many areas of the eastern Corn Belt experienced above average soybean yields in 2023. Most of the western and northern Corn Belt had soybean yields that were lower than the excellent yield levels of 2022, and the 2023 soybean yields were much more variable than a year ago.

2023 corn yields have also been highly variable in many areas and have been lower than the excellent 2022 corn yields in most portions of the Upper Midwest. Similar to soybeans, corn yields this year have seemed to be more consistent in the eastern Corn Belt, which benefitted from more favorable growing conditions in May and June than other areas. Just as with the soybeans, corn yields in some portions of the Upper Midwest have also been highly variable, depending on corn hybrids, planting dates, and the timeliness rainfall during the growing season. There have been some “whole field” yield reports of 200 bushels per acre or higher in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa; however, there have also been yield reports of 160-170 bushels per acre in the same general area. Overall, the 2023 corn yields in the Upper Midwest are not nearly as consistent as a year ago and for most farmers will be somewhat lower than their 2022 corn yields.

One piece of good news for producers regarding the 2023 corn harvest has been the harvest moisture of the corn coming out of the field. Most of the corn being harvested this Fall has been under 20 percent moisture, which has resulted in a reduced amount of additional drying that is required before the corn is placed in on-farm bins for storage. Corn should be dried to about 14-16 percent moisture before going into the grain bin for safe storage until next Spring or Summer. In fact, some corn has been harvested near that level and has been able to be placed in grain bins without additional drying. This can be a big savings in corn drying costs for farmers.

The test weight of the corn being harvested has also been a pleasant surprise this year, with most corn having a test weight of 56-59 pounds per bushel. The standard test weight when selling corn to grain markets is 56 pounds per bushel. Except for areas that were impacted by severe storms in the summer months or in recent weeks, the stalk strength of the corn has been fairly good this fall, which has resulted in very favorable harvest conditions. There could be some late season corn harvest challenges in the areas of North Dakota and Northwest Minnesota that received heavier amounts of snowfall in late October.

Fall tillage and manure applications have been occurring as soon as harvest is completed; however, those operations could be more challenging in many locations going forward, following the heavy rainfall and wet snowfall that have caused saturated topsoil conditions. This type of soil situation can make it difficult for quality tillage and may require leaving portions of fields without fall tillage or manure applications until next spring. In areas with more moderate rainfall, the added soil moisture has been beneficial for late fall tillage and manure application.

Producers in some areas of the region typically apply nitrogen fertilizer for the corn crop that will be raised in the following year, once the current year’s harvest is completed. It is recommended to wait until soil temperatures are 50 degrees Fahrenheit or lower to apply nitrogen in the fall in order to avoid significant losses; however, this should not be a concern anymore this fall, following the cold temperatures in late October. Farm operators are reminded to follow the statewide restrictions for fall nitrogen fertilizer application in their area. Farmers should check with their State Department of Agriculture or Land Grant University for fall nitrogen application recommendations and requirements in their State.

The excessive rainfall that has been occurring in October in many portions of the Upper Midwest has delayed harvest in some areas; however, it has helped replenish depleted stored soil moisture levels across the region. The extremely dry growing season in 2023 had brought stored soil moisture levels in much of the region to very low levels. The late season rainfall in 2023 will certainly be helpful as a starting point for the 2024 growing season.

Many portions of the Upper Midwest were listed in “severe” to “extreme” drought by late September, based on the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor. The above normal rainfall in many areas of the northern Corn Belt has helped ease some of those concerns by late October.


Note — For additional information contact Kent Thiesse, Farm Management Analyst and Sr. Vice President,

MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN.  (Phone — (507) 381-7960)

E-mail — kent.thiesse@minnstarbank.com)  Web Site — http://www.minnstarbank.com/


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