Drought releases grip on Midwest’s soybean and corn crops

Source: Tiffany Stecker, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, July 7, 2014

The Midwest’s corn-and-bean belt is rapidly emerging from drought, offering a positive summer outlook for growers, according to today’s U.S. Drought Monitor.

The percentage of soybeans in drought has dropped 80 percent since April 8 — the peak for 2014 — from 25 percent to 5 percent. Corn in drought has dropped from 32 percent in early April — the peak for 2014 — to 8 percent, the monitor said.

Significant rainfall across the Midwest in June has replenished topsoil moisture, said Brad Rippey, one of the authors of the weekly drought report and a meteorologist with the Department of Agriculture. The drought monitor is produced by authors from USDA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Drought Mitigation Center.

“Drought is just not part of the picture for the American Midwest so far this summer,” Rippey said.

The summer 2012 drought across the U.S. midsection limited corn production to 10.8 billion bushels, about one-quarter less than what USDA had projected in the spring (ClimateWire, Jan. 14).

Three-quarters of corn was rated good to excellent on June 29, the highest for that time of year since 2003. Soybeans were rated 72 percent good to excellent, the highest score for that period in the last two decades.

Despite a slow start to the planting season in many states, recent production estimates have been favorable for corn and soybeans.

Higher-than-expected grain stocks and planted acreage could lead to the lowest prices for the crops in five years, said University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, economist Darrel Good. That’s good for consumers but a potential profit loss for farmers.

USDA’s acreage report released Monday indicated a record crop this year for soybeans, 84.8 million acres, or 8 percent above the last record set in 2009. For all crops, plantings are at the highest level since 1997.

But while rain may have saturated the topsoil in the Midwest, some of the deeper soils across the country remain dry, Rippey said. It may take a few months of above-normal rainfall to hydrate the subsoil in states like Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri and Kentucky.

In the West, drought continues to limit productivity. More than one-third of California — 36 percent — remains in exceptional drought, the highest level. The Golden State also has the highest percentage of rangelands and pastures, 75 percent, rated in poor to very poor condition.

Thirty-six percent of cattle is in drought, a 12-percentage-point drop from two months ago. One-quarter of hay-growing areas are in drought, 7 percentage points less than on May 6.

The nation’s winter wheat crop continues to languish under too-dry conditions with 46 percent of winter wheat production in drought, down from a May 6 high of 54 percent. Nearly half of U.S. winter wheat was rated in very poor to poor condition, with Oklahoma in the lead. Close to 90 percent of Oklahoma’s crop has been harvested. Rain in May and June arrived too late to help the crop, Rippey said. Thirty percent of the crop nationwide has been rated good to excellent.