USDA’s weekly Crop Progress report indicates that both soybean and corn planting remain well behind schedule and are both roughly at the level of 1993. That’s not a good comparison if one wants large crops!
After planting 43% of corn acres the week of May 19, further progress was limited last week by heavy rainfal l in many parts of the Corn Belt. Only 15% more corn acres were put in the ground, bringing the total to 86%. That compares to the five-year average (2008-2012) of 90%. In fact, corn planting was completed by this week last year.
So is this the slowest ever? That depends on how you judge “slowest.” We’ve always shown 1993 as the slowest year, primarily because it got started so slowly, with less than 10% of acres planted by the end of April. Like this year, producers caught up some in mid-May 1993, planting 53% of the acres between May 5 and May 19 of that year.
But there are a number of years that had a lower percentage of acres planted by week 21, which this year corresponds to May 26. Only 71% of acres were planted by this week in 1995, and only 78% were planted in 1996. Only 82% were planted by now in 2009.
The national average yield in 1995 was 13.2 bu. below trend. For 1996, the yield got within 1.5 bu. of trend, while 2009 saw the current record corn yield of 164.7 bu./acre. That was 11.9 bu./acre above the 1960-present trend, and 8 bu./acre larger than the 1996-present “biotech era” trend.
The story is virtually the same for soybeans. USDA reports that 20% of soybean acres  were planted last week bringing the total to 44%. That compares to last year’s 89%, and a five-year average of 61%. It is also very similar to the progress of 1993.
Our judgment of 1993 as the “slowest” progress year is again based on the very late start to that planting season which was plagued by steady heavy rains. Recall the severe Midwestern flooding that year.
As was the case with corn, 1995 and 1996 saw lower percentages planted by early June, while 2009 (48% as of week 21) was just barely beyond this year’s pace. Also as for corn, 2009 is the record-high for soybean yield at 44 bu./acre, about 1.6 bu./acre above the 1970-present trend.
Just over half (54%) of corn acres have emerged as of Sunday. That compares to a five-year average of 67% and a record-high 89% one year ago. Soybeans have emerged on 14% of acres. That figure was 57% last year and averaged 30% over the past five years.
While rain has definitely slowed progress  in the past couple of weeks, moisture is obviously good news as well. Virtually the entire state of Iowa received 2 in. or more of rain over the past 14 days, and that band of rainfall reached from central Illinois north and west all the way to Montana.
The Dakotas also received heavy rain – something North Dakota, with its significant winter snow cover and slow spring melt, really didn’t need at this point. But it is hard to argue with moisture, especially coming off a year like 2012. Even areas of western Nebraska have received 2-3 in. over the past two weeks. Excellent maps of recent and past rainfall can be found at http://water.weather.gov/precip /.
The bad news on the precipitation front is that no help has come to the major winter wheat areas of western Kansas, eastern Colorado or the Panhandle regions of Texas and Oklahoma.
Winter wheat conditions changed little this past week with 42% of acres rated poor or very poor (vs. 41% last week, and only 17% last year). Only 31% rated good or excellent (the same as last week, 54% last year). It appears that this summer’s winter wheat crop will provide little, if any, help for feed supplies.
Nationally, pasture conditions improved slightly with poor/very poor acres dropping 4% to 27% and good/excellent acres gaining 4% to 52%. The vast majority of those poor acres, though, are in key cow-calf states in the Plains. Texas still shows 44% of pastures in poor or very poor condition. For Oklahoma, it’s 36%, and 53% in Kansas, and 65% in Nebraska. New Mexico is 91%, with the other 9% rated as only fair. What this is telling us is that it may be very difficult to grow the beef cowherd significantly this year.
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