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Despite Many Challenges, 2022 US Corn Crop Made It to the Finish Line

Mary Kennedy
By  Mary Kennedy , DTN Basis Analyst
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According to the USGC 2022-23 Corn Harvest report, despite growing season challenges, the U.S. still produced a corn crop with high grain quality and a supply that will enable it to remain the world's leading corn exporter. (Photo by Leah Pottinger Photography, New Haven Kentucky)

The U.S. Grains Council recently released its annual corn harvest report and noted minor planting delays caused by cool early season temperatures. The council noted the 2022 growing season could be characterized by warm and dry conditions from May into September. While these conditions contributed to reduced yields, they also accelerated the crop's maturation and permitted a timely harvest, thus maintaining the overall quality of the 2022 crop.

I spoke with farmers and elevators around the U.S. corn growing areas to see how the growing season started and eventually ended with harvest.

In North Dakota, where drought was still showing in the west and flooding was rampant in the northeast this past spring, farmers showed their resilience and were able to get a crop in later than normal. Peter Ness, Sharon, North Dakota, said harvest was better than expected with the lack of rain they got over the summer. "Can't complain about corn harvest, especially when were finished by Oct. 20. Harvest went quick with corn coming off the field at 16%-17% moisture, average test weight of 59 lbs., yields anywhere from the 165 to 190ish bushel per acre (bpa)."

Cory Tryan, Grain Manager Alton Grain Terminal, LLC, Hillsboro, North Dakota, said, "We had a wide range with yields 15 bpa better than normal in the low 180's. It was a nice clean crop with a lot of less than 1% BCFM (Broken Corn and Foreign Material) off the field and test weights were a couple pounds higher than usual."

"We are still harvesting," said Paul Anderson, Coleharbor, North Dakota. "Rains were spotty this year. The yield range was 135 bpa on my best ground to 50 bpa on some sandy fields. Not sure if we have enough to make the guarantee yet, still fighting cold equipment and as of we have about 350 acres to go."

"Pretty amazing the yields that we got and how dry the crop was coming off the field when you consider when the crop was planted," said Keith Brandt, general manager for Plains Grain and Agronomy, at Enderlin, North Dakota. "The majority of the corn was planted between May 16th and May 31. You would have expected less than average yields and moistures of 20%-plus even by the end of October. Corn harvest was basically wrapped up by the end of October with average or better yields and most corn was harvested in that 16%-17% moisture. Good quality and good test weight. Judging by seed sales, corn acres will be up 20%-25% for 2023. But that's the same amount that was prevent plant this year. Maybe a few more acres of canola and sunflowers in our area next year."

For reference, there was a total of more than 3 million corn acres left unplanted in the U.S. Of that total 1.19 million acres were in North Dakota, 540,193 corn acres were in South Dakota and Minnesota and Arkansas both had approximately 270,000 acres of acres intended for corn not planted.

Tim Luken, manager at Oahe Grain, Onida, South Dakota, said, "Our harvest started about the 15th of September. By third week of October, we took in 530,000 bushels with average test weight of 57.2 lbs. with 15.7% moisture. A lot of producers told me they didn't know where all the bushels were coming from with what little rain we have gotten. One farmer had a field of dry land go 177 bpa, another had 165 bpa and another opened up a field in the middle 200-plus bpa all the way across. He said it was the best he had ever seen. In the Gettysburg area they received more timely rains than what we did around there. I will put Onida area at 135-170 bpa Gettysburg area 160-185 bpa, with some doing 200-plus bpa. This will be 20 or better bushels higher than what we figured."

"The dry weather that hurt yields at the end of the growing season helped us breeze through corn harvest without any weather delays and we finished up on Nov. 3, the earliest finish in my career," said Ryan Wagner, Wagner Farms, Roslyn, South Dakota. "Yields were average to slightly below average but still we can't complain considering we are going on a grand total of .5 inch of rain with no more than .2 inch at any one time since the beginning of August. We had some subsoil moisture to work with after the wet spring and no-till helped get us through as well. Moisture was about 18% at the start of harvest in early October and was basically 15% by the end of harvest, so we only ran about half the corn through the dryer and the corn that did go through we were only pulling out 2%-3%."

Dave Newby, Bondurant, Iowa, said they were able to finish harvest by their target date of Nov. 1. "We hired a little harvesting and hauling help to finish up. The harvest started late due to the lateness of planting (mid to late May). We were blessed with a good number of harvest days once we started. Quality was excellent with some corn testing 63 lbs., just beautiful stuff! Corn was down to 15% moisture by the end, so drying costs were less than normal. Corn yields were 8.5% lower than '21 and bean yields were 7.3% less."

"Before we get into how harvest was this year in 2022, we need to go back to the planting season. We got most of our crops in a timely manner but had storms coming through as they were emerging and we had a few areas where we had to replant on June 28," said Cale Carlson, Marquette, Nebraska. "We got a pretty good start on harvesting higher moisture corn starting at 25 to 28% moisture. As we progressed through harvest it became very dry. We did not get any rain, so the corn went from 25% moisture to 15% moisture quickly. We were able to haul some of our higher moisture corn to the Coop to fill our contracts as they were offering incentive to try to secure bushels because not a whole lot of harvest was happening at that time."

Carlson added that, by the time they were ready to fill up their own storage, "the corn was dry enough that we did not have to run it through our dryer which was nice although we probably lost some yield due to Phantom yield loss. Irrigated corn yields range from 240 to 280 bpa and dryland pivot corners were 0 to 20 bpa. And, we were down to 12% moisture. Overall, I'm happy with my final corn yield results but it took a lot of irrigation in the last half of the season after it stopped raining after July and we didn't get any help, but the fields that I was able to keep the irrigation systems running on, yielded quite well."

"According to my DTN weather station, we ended up around 10 inches short on rainfall compared to our 10-year average," said Quentin Connealy, Tekamah, Nebraska. "My house is in the south end of the county and we missed 6-8 inches of rainfall compared to the north half of the county. Dryland was pretty darn bad; irrigated was OK. Just more of a shock coming off our record 2021 crop. In the early 2022 corn harvest, you could open up a field and it would be 13% moisture on dryland areas and up to 25% or more where it was irrigated. "Pretty wild" was how I liked to refer to it as."

Lucas Miller, Randolf, Nebraska, said that "spring started off typically on the Miller farm, trying to finish up getting planters and tractors serviced and the field ready right as the conditions were getting fit to plant. Some cool damp weather in the last week of April held us out of the fields till the beginning of May. Conditions for planting in May were excellent with warm, dry weather; planting and burndown spraying went extremely well. The good conditions ended with the end of planting.

"The dryness that we enjoyed during planting continued through emergence and the beginning of June. Due to dryness, we had to start our irrigation season earlier than usual. The dryness quickly turned to drought, and by the middle of June, we found ourselves running our pivots before bean post just to try to have enough moisture for the chemicals to all work properly. By July most of our acres were in D3 drought and by August all of our acres were in a D3 drought. Our summer consisted of keeping the pivots running at all times and just praying that there would be something in the dryland corn to harvest."

Miller said that when September arrived, D4 drought had started to creep into the area and "we were planning for very poor dryland yields. Our harvest did start earlier than average but only by a week. If there was one word to sum up harvest 2022 it would be "variable." Dryland corn was again variable with yield in the same field ranging from 20 to 200 bpa. We did have a few exceptional dryland cornfields that came close to actual production history (APH) but most fields were 30% to 70% off of our APH. We were fortunate to have enough water with all of our wells that we had well irrigated corn yields. Our irrigated farms came in right at our APH levels with just a few performing better than APH, but as a whole, our irrigated fields were still down at least 10% from the last two years of production."

Miller said that harvest was just as dry as their growing season and provided no "rain delay" days for fixing minor breakdowns. "Although harvest went along without any delays, it did make what was a smooth harvest seem longer than it was. I was told in 2012 that it was a 100-year drought, that was followed in 2013 by a 500-year flood. We had less rain in 2022 than we did in 2012 on our farm. I do not know what 2023 holds, but I look forward to the challenges ahead and to another productive crop season."

Randy Uhrmacher, Hastings, Nebraska, said it was a fast harvest due to dry conditions. "Soybeans were a little disappointing, but the irrigated corn was slightly better than expected overall. The irrigated was down a little bit from last year but not as far down as I thought. Dryland was totally rain-dependent and yield ranged from 40-130 bpa. Quality was good, with heavy test weights from a good finish and that's probably where the yield came from. Basis levels are a record high in my 38 years of farming. Marketing is far different than I have ever experienced."

He is referring to the very strong basis levels that prolonged before and through harvest as feeders' and processors' demand was high. Cash corn was hard to procure in many areas where drought had stifled yields. Western corn prices were the strongest and higher-priced cash corn was moving to the southern feeders via rail.

Kenny Reinke, Neligh, Nebraska, said, "The old cliche is 'better than expected' but I would say humble and blessed for what was there this year is more accurate for me. After the very long and hard-fought irrigation season, the very bad memories of 2012 were definitely on my mind. Thankfully, it was no 2012 repeat. That year we saw 50 bpa irrigated corn and 200-bushel swings in the same swath of irrigated corn going through the field. The dryland this year was anywhere from zero to 120 bpa. The range on irrigated was 150-290 bpa going through fields. You could really tell where the water was a little short or wasn't applied quite right, which really weighs on the consistency and average of the field in years like this.

"The corn this year stayed healthy and green for a long time into fall with us not getting a good killing frost till the 8th of October. With the hot dry weather, there was very little disease pressure, which also helped with plant health and gave the corn a good long fill period. It seems like we are always blessed with wind here. We had an early wind come through that actually took a lot of the leaves off the corn and even took some tops out. This actually helped dry the grain out and made it more resilient to several other strong winds that came through with less plant material for it to get ahold of. I raise about half of my production as non-GMO and even it was standing well with the added risk of corn borer damage."

Reinke said they were honestly a little concerned with the possibility of the corn carrying moisture since planting was delayed compared to normal for them. "Historically our normal practice is to stage corn harvest so the crop has had time to field dry. This doesn't always play out and we end up hauling a lot of water to town and paying drying charges. This year the corn was almost perfect with it holding just enough moisture to not head shell badly, but dry enough to flow well and not create extra expenses with hauling excess weight and drying charges. One thing about corn is that it really loves heat if you can keep the water in front of it and that really showed in the quality. We could tell the bins were holding a lot of corn this year. The 14% to 15% moisture corn and 61- to 62-pound test weight really helps and as a rule, it also usually keeps better.

Dan Erickson, Altona, Illinois, said that overall, they had a good harvest. "It wasn't quite as good as we hoped, but still probably our third to fourth best ever. There was definitely some late-season disease pressure in corn. Mostly tar spot, but it came a couple weeks later and didn't cause the yield losses we saw in our corner of western Illinois last year. The corn dried down quickly and a little too quickly, but low humidity and warm weather kept us going seven days a week with only a couple short weather delays. Our yields ranged from 215-260 bpa, averaging about 240 bpa. We store everything on the farm, so transportation issues didn't affect us."

"Harvest was below average for us," said Robert Reese, Lansing, Michigan. "Wet spring, our crop went in late, extremely dry June/July. Seems like surrounding counties caught a bit more rain in July. They were pretty happy with corn middle of May plant date. Late May, early June was not good! Wildlife in central Michigan has been of control the last two years. Deer herds are huge and that kills average yield when the outside of the field is decimated. It was a challenging year to say the least. Just hoping we can do it again next year!"

Quint Pottinger, New Haven, Kentucky, said, "The dry harvest, start to finish, was welcome; however, due to the wet, cool spring we had delayed planting and emergence. Early planted corn suffered from the eventual warm up and heat with no rain in June while the later planted (May 8-18) was 50- to 60-bushel above average. Everything planted after May 18th was delayed further in harvest. All of it culminated to a harvest nightmare from a drying corn perspective. We start shelling at 26% and that is how we normally harvest and with the 2022 fall weather, we could be done in three weeks. But the moisture was all over the board.

"We would chew down to 21% moisture and then move to another farm and it would be clear up at 28%. It was similar planting dates and same varieties, just geographically located 1/2 mile down the road. All total, it took us nine weeks to get the crop harvested. That was in part due to erratic moisture of the corn and having to pull out and get beans before they started popping pods."

Pottinger added, "As far as yield, we were far from the two triple twenties and a bullseye. Thankfully, we had enough later planted corn with outstanding yields to pull our farm average up. I have year 10 under my belt, and early on I thought it would be like my year 1 (2012) when we didn't have a crop; proving again that there are no two years alike in farming, just lessons to learn. Our whiskey distillers are telling me they are getting some of the best yields in years, which is really good news.

Looking back, it was a blessing to have the dry weather as prolonged as we did this fall regardless of the challenge it presented to planting winter crop.

"The 2022 corn harvest was like Ted Lasso throwing darts with the wrong hand. You could look at the growing season and think you could figure yield and moisture, but reality was you couldn't call it on the nose until you got in the field."

Read a more thorough breakdown of the U.S. Grains Council 2022/23 Corn Harvest Quality Report here:…

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