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Column: Crop Watch - Early corn, soy prospects favorable, but N. Dakota troubles continue

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (Reuters) - U.S. corn and soybean planting has been ahead of normal pace so far this year, and that often sets up for a great growing season. Some of the Crop Watch growers are very pleased with their crops at this point, but the North Dakota producer has yet to start as conditions remain largely too wet.

A crop scout walks through a soybean field to check on crops during the Pro Farmer 2019 Midwest Crop Tour, in Allen County, Indiana, U.S., August 19, 2019. REUTERS/P.J. Huffstutter

Excessive moisture has also recently been an issue for the Ohio grower, who just started planting. But for some of the earlier planted crops, especially the Indiana soybeans, a cold spell earlier in the month has caused some concerns.

Twelve of the 16 Crop Watch fields were planted prior to May 4 and as early as April 6, and those were completed earlier than in the previous two years. The 13th field, the Ohio soybeans, were planted on Sunday.

The Ohio producer hopes to plant his corn field later this week, but both North Dakota fields are on hold with no target date just yet.

Crop Watch 2020 follows one corn and one soybean field in eight major U.S. Corn Belt states, and these are the same eight growers who participated in the 2018 and 2019 versions of Crop Watch. Weekly updates will be issued for these fields from now until harvest.

The producers will assign a numerical rating to their crops on a weekly basis, both for condition and yield expectations, but those will not officially begin for at least a couple more weeks to allow for more emergence and in some cases, planting.

The following are the states and counties of the Crop Watch corn and soybean fields: Griggs, North Dakota; Freeborn, Minnesota; Burt, Nebraska; Rice, Kansas; Cedar, Iowa; Crawford, Illinois; Boone, Indiana; Fairfield, Ohio.

MOSTLY GOOD START

Cooler temperatures across the Corn Belt have slowed crop growth over the last two weeks, but for some producers that was ideal in order to avoid damage from a frost about a week ago.

None of the Crop Watch growers reported negative impacts to their subject fields from the cold snap except in Indiana. Those soybeans were planted on April 6, the first Crop Watch field planted. The beans were up and growing by the time the cold arrived, and the producer fears he may have to replant the field, along with several others.

The only other producers that have reported notable weather problems outside of North Dakota were those in Ohio and Nebraska. The Ohio grower finally got started planting this weekend after being grounded by cool, wet weather.

In northeast Nebraska, emerged crops were not doing so well since no significant rainfall had been observed for nearly 60 days. A little more than a half inch (13 mm) fell this weekend, and more rain is forecast over the next couple of weeks, so the moisture concerns have eased.

The producers in Iowa and Illinois are probably the happiest with their crops right now among the eight Crop Watch participants, but the Minnesota and Kansas farmers are also very content. The Illinois grower notes that his soybeans have never looked so strong at this point in the game, and there is no reason to believe record yields are not possible.

The corn in those four states is also looking very good, but some plants were nicked by the cold last week. These growers are not concerned though, as warmer temperatures are expected over the next couple of weeks and that will help the corn outgrow those cosmetic issues.

NOT WELL IN NORTH DAKOTA

A month ago, the North Dakota grower, located in the east central part of the state, was optimistic that he could plant his corn and soybean fields earlier than in the past two years. But nature had other plans.

Much of North Dakota was extremely wet at the end of last year, and the situation did not sufficiently ease by the time spring planting arrived. The producer reports that there is not one single field in his area that is fully ready to plant, nor is there a field that has been 100% planted.

The weather should finally improve this week with warmer and windier conditions, which are best for drying soils. However, the final date to plant corn under crop insurance rules is May 25 in this part of North Dakota. Many producers must quickly decide whether they should spread fertilizer and plant corn, knowing that the wet planting conditions place a greater risk on yield.

The Crop Watch grower reports that many area farmers are leaning toward the prevent plant option on corn, which they can claim if conditions did not allow for planting within the specified time frame in the insurance policy. This decision is influenced heavily by the current low-price environment.

North Dakota farmers reported to the USDA in early March that they intended to plant 3.2 million acres of corn this year, one of the few states planning a decline in corn acres from 2019. Last year, North Dakota farmers registered about 590,000 acres of corn prevented from planting, the largest for the state since 2011.

However, total prevented plantings were below 1 million acres last year in North Dakota, much less than some of the prior extreme years. Some 4.49 million prevented acres were registered across the state in 2011. From the Crop Watch grower’s perspective, approaching a 2011 situation in the state is not out of the question, especially given how drastically lower prices are today versus then.

But there is still some time for wheat and soybeans, as those final planting dates are May 31 and June 10, respectively. The next couple weeks of weather will be extremely important in determining whether farmers will proceed with planting or if prevented acres are likely to expand.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a market analyst for Reuters.

Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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