The 2023 corn crop saw its share of late snow in the spring and early snow in the fall, mixed rainfall totals during the growing season and drought conditions during the summer. The farmers and elevator managers that I spoke with during the week of Nov. 13-17 had a variety of stories about their season. Some were good, some not so good and many were surprised at the yields, given the mixture of weather conditions from start to finish.
Bodie Kitchel, central Indiana, said, "2023 was filled with one of the more unique growing seasons we've had. Due to low humidity and low rainfall, we had corn 2 inches shorter than normal in a lot of places with the assumptions going into harvest as being down considerably. When the combines started to roll, harvest was a pleasant surprise for most. Walking corn all summer, I had a sneaky suspicion things would be better than they appeared and that proved correct. This year will likely shake out as a top three corn crop for our family farm with a couple of fields setting records for field averages. Grain quality was amazing; no ear molds or disease, and test weight was great as well. On my farm that we've owned for a couple years, we tilled last fall with hopes of driving our production higher. This year our field was 70 bushel per acre better than last, with test weight at 60.6 pounds and 19% moisture."
"Our yields are average to above average and I'm extremely impressed with that considering we had 7 to 8 inches of rain from the end of April through September," said Cody Etter of Cloverdale, Ohio. "Quality locally is very good outside of being higher in moisture than typical. There are some reports of high vomitoxin levels in the surrounding areas but nowhere near the widespread nature as last year, at least not in Ohio."
According to the Nov. 13 USDA crop progress report, corn harvest was lagging in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Talk during the week was that storage was an issue in parts of eastern Indiana and Ohio, which means corn was likely still sitting in the field.
Etter said he was thankful he moved the bulk of what he needed early in harvest. "Basis is horrific as a reflection of the storage issues. Ethanol plant has had production issues, and as of this week, only seven hours of grain receiving all week. The last two weeks were half to under half of typical hours. This week, hours are nearly non-existent. As you can imagine, this is impacting basis greatly. Initially, it was just affecting the short-term but now we are seeing basis drop 30 cents to -40 for December and already seeing impacts to January as well."
Matt Schwab, northeastern Michigan, said, "Corn harvest is probably 50% or more done in my area after a slow wet start. Most corn is averaging around 175 to 200 bushels per acre (bpa) and still carrying a bit of moisture with it. As for quality across central into northeast Michigan, there was random vomitoxin discovered. Seems to be tapering off now, but all elevators are testing. Test weight has also been quite variable, running even mostly on the low side around 50 to 54 pounds. On my farm, we used a fungicide, and our test weight has been averaging 55 to 56 pounds. Soybeans really lagged in yield this year. From an agronomy standpoint, it does not make sense as we have plenty of rain in August and September."
"Probably need to start from the beginning. Had a rather wet April, then the rains turned off about the first week of May. We did not see any significant rain until the very end of June," said Robert Reese of Lansing, Michigan. "First 10 days of planting (had) good emergence and good yields on soybeans. After that, emergence and yields have gone down. Actually had 15%+ of soybean acres that did not emerge because it was so dry. Finally replanted those acres June 30 because that's when it rained and had some moisture to get them going. Then came the wheat harvest at the end of July and the rains have been relentless. Most of our straw had to get raked two and three times to get it bailed and out of the field."
Reese added, "We are just nicely getting started on corn here as of Nov. 17. First fields have been average to maybe slightly above average. Moisture is manageable in the low 20s. Test weight is below average at this point though. Hearing rumors of vomitoxin but sounds like not much to the south of us. But possibly to the north of us, numbers might be creeping up there. We are only two days into harvest and have not taken any samples to know where we stand currently."
Quint Pottinger, New Haven, Kentucky, said "Dry harvest weather allowed us to move through corn at a consistent pace. The corn crop never fully dried down like in normal years. Without those rain showers, it seemed to retain its kernel moisture, only drying out a few points in the field. We started Sept. 21 at 27% and wrapped up all but the remaining 90 acres on Oct. 27. The last corn we shelled was coming into the granary at 22%."
Pottinger added, "Not a terrible problem as the corn yields were good and it kept a consistent schedule to keep the dryer running this fall. Everyone was able to be out of the field and on the way home by 7:30 p.m. almost every day, and we only worked two Saturdays during corn harvest. Definitely out of the normal but kept the dryer from being overrun. Great corn yields in central Kentucky. Although I can't say the same about double-crop soybeans and we desperately need the rain for winter wheat and rye we have planted."
Cale Carlson, Marquette, Nebraska, said, "All in all, it was a good corn and soybean harvest. Only one or two weather delays, otherwise wide-open windows to get a lot done. It seems like there were more mechanical issues this year but it's also my third year of harvest without Dad. Yields seemed to correlate well with the amount of water we pumped -- or were able to pump -- and beans were right in the three-year average. Corn was a little bit better than the three-year average, but also heavy irrigation expenses. We did fill up all of my storage and even rented some out to a neighbor with all of the good fall weather continuing. We are doing lots of fieldwork and preparation for next year."
"It was a good corn harvest on the East Coast of Nebraska," said Q Connealy. "We fought a little bit of heavy wind damage due to some late August, early September wind gusts. Other than that, we were able to get most of it picked up off the ground and had insurance wind coverage to help with the harvest delay and losses that came with it. Irrigation sure helped as we saw some really great corn yields where we could water timely through the growing season. Heavier soils did well with corn as they held what moisture we got a little longer to help the yields. Good light ground dried up and saw some pretty disappointing yields in some really good dryland farms. Other than that, it was a pretty successful growing season."
Jay Reiners, Juniata, Nebraska, said, "South central Nebraska experienced its second consecutive year of drought. Dryland soybeans were 5 to 15 bpa and dryland corn 10 to 75 bpa, depending if you caught the right cloud. Irrigated beans are all over the board at 45 to 90 bpa. My irrigated beans were pretty good. Irrigated corn 225-300 bpa, depending on how good the well was or if you had pivot problems. Overall, I think most guys were OK with yields. The first week of August, I would have told you that we had record irrigated yields but a couple of weeks of 100-degree plus and 80-degree nights really hurt us. Just couldn't keep plants cooled off and they never had a chance to rest with the hot nights."
"Harvest went well in this part of Minnesota," said Eric Dahlager, Sacred Heart, Minnesota. "We did have some rain in October that slowed things down a little along with enough snow to shut us down one night. Yields were definitely variable in the area. Yet, even with the variability we saw, we had record crops for our farm in corn, beans and sugar beets."
Austen Citrowske, Canby, Minnesota, said, "Overall, we had spotty rains and some very good yields where the rains were. Our corn-on-corn acres were terrible as far as yields."
"We finished up corn harvest a couple of weeks ago," said Dave Newby, Bondurant, Iowa. "We got a big rain in early August that saved us. Heat definitely trimmed some bushels during filling. Overall, a decent year considering the moisture deficit. The yield range was 210 to 230 bpa, mostly corn on corn. We were shooting for more but just missed a couple of good rains. Quality was excellent, not real heavy like last year, but not too light. Moisture was a bit higher this year. It didn't dry quite as fast as I had hoped."
Kelly Nieuwenhuis, Primghar, Iowa, said, "We'll wrap up harvest 2023 on Nov. 16. In northwest Iowa, we usually have better yields when we're on the dryer side over excessive moisture. All year, I felt we had good potential. I just needed those timely rains. We were blessed with the timely rains in my area, and thus, we produced a very good corn crop. Can't speak for all because rains were very spotty hit-or-miss situations. Also, test weights are excellent and we harvested all corn in the 15% to 19% moisture. No propane used this harvest!"
Chris Bowman, DeWitt, Iowa, said, "Corn yields are very variable in eastern Iowa! Soils with sand or sandy subsoils took a hit yield-wise. Highly productive soils that caught any extra rains performed well. Most of harvest is complete here."
"Corn harvest is winding down here and yields have been excellent. Outside of a cold and wet 10-day stretch in late October, the weather has been perfect," said Ryan Wagner, Roslyn, South Dakota. "Moisture is right around 20% and hasn't really come down much since we started, so we are running every bushel through the dryer. Storage space is at a premium in the final stage of harvest here, so it's not surprising that ground piles are popping up, spot basis levels have been weakening and some places are reducing hours."
A grain buyer in eastern South Dakota said, "Quality is good with good test weight reported. Yields are better than expected and most commercial elevators have been able to fill corn bin space. Average yields were 180 bpa and average test weight was 58.4 pounds around our draw area."
North Dakota isn't normally considered part of the Corn Belt, but this year it has become one of the states with a larger-than-expected crop.
Keith Brandt, general manager of Plains Grain and Agronomy LLC, Enderlin, North Dakota, said, "Corn harvest is starting to wind down. Probably 85% complete. It was a very good crop -- 10 to 15 bpa or better than what they were expecting. Plus, the pace that they can harvest comes at you hard and fast. Space has been premium since harvest started. Because of the lack of freight, wheat and soybeans were taking up corn room. Corn piles are huge. Having some issues with a couple of the piles. We should be able to start picking up some of the piles by next week."
"Corn harvest was an off-and-on event this year. Our trade area should wrap up this weekend, thanks to some really nice weather the past week," said Cory Tryan, grain manager at Alton Grain Terminal, LLC, Hillsboro, North Dakota. "Yields were variable in the 160 to 200 bpa range with an overall average in the 180s or 10 to 15 bushels better than average. Most of the crop came off wet in the 16% to 21% moisture ranges, so most was dried. Quality is good with BCFM (Broken Corn and Foreign Material) in the 1.5% range, in part thanks to higher moisture. After drying, we aren't seeing the normal breakage and it is holding up well. Test weight ranged 55 to 58 pounds."
Darrin Schmidt, eastern North Dakota, said, "Yields were mixed depending on rain and location. North, we had great above-APH (actual production history) yields. As you moved south, we were at APH or well below. Kind of depended on rain. Quality was average, I'd say; no disease or test weight issues."
"As far as corn is concerned for 2023, we started off with an extremely dry fall in 2022. Missed some of the area rains and went into winter with very little subsoil," said Josh Backstrom, north central North Dakota. "We got a decent amount of snow last November, and it was deep enough that it really didn't freeze the ground much, so this spring I noticed a lot of it soaked in and there wasn't a whole lot of runoff and that really helped start things off. We had some good rains in May and the first half of June and then it basically shut off until the middle of August, so there was just a real long stretch with basically no rain for two months. It really hurt the higher ground and sandier soils. But the low ground that was able to hold onto enough moisture did extremely well.
"Then we had a later-than-average frost, which delayed the dry down of all that low-ground corn that was still green, so it was quite a waiting period for some fields to get them harvested. We finished Nov. 11, and we still had corn coming off at 24% in those areas. Our moisture averaged from 17% in lighter ground where yields were also then below average, some placing the cobs were so low they barely made it into the header if they even made a cob at all! The better, lower ground was up to 21% average with above-average yields respectively. I would also add that I had several different hybrids ranging from 81 day up to 89 day. Placing the longer maturity hybrids in the lower, better ground also contributed to the higher moisture, but also took advantage of the full season and pushed the yields. From 1993 until about 2014, we were generally wetter than normal. The last eight years, we've been in a drier cycle, and we've learned it's not so much about varieties and hybrids; it's 'will we have enough moisture to make it through or not."
Austin Sundeen, east of Devil's Lake, North Dakota, said, "Corn harvest started off a little late with soybeans not drying down and long lines at the elevators, but we finally got going on Oct. 16. Moistures were right at 20%, so the dryer corn allowed harvest to move along pretty quickly. Yields were about 10 to 20 bpa under last year because of the 4 inches of rain during the growing season. We wrapped up the day with 8 inches of snow that fell on Oct. 26. We got going again Nov. 4 to help some neighbors, but we made a mess out of the fields and were forced to load trucks on the road and finally finished them up a few days later. Most fired up a couple days ago and the fields are dry enough to travel, but still loading on the roads and most will finish up by the weekend. So overall, test weight and quality were good, but yields were down, and now we are pushing to get our fertilizer down.
Quentin Sears, Minnewaukan, North Dakota, said, "2023 corn was a roller coaster! Our ground saw 2 1/4 to 6 inches of rain during the growing season. Yields varied greatly depending on what rain shower the field caught. We found some 80-bushel corn and we found some much better. Overall, our farm was on the dry side and ended up about 10% below APH. Quality was great; an above-average test weight year for us. Moisture seemed to be 18% to 20% no matter the maturity, so we were pretty happy about that. Harvest drug on longer than it should've when we received 12 to 18 inches of snow on half of our acres! It ended up melting for the most part and we were able to finish up with no problem, just a little extra mud."
Sears added, "Overall, I think there is a huge corn crop coming out of North Dakota; we were just a few miles away from some incredible corn in southern and western North Dakota."
Mary Kennedy can be reached at Mary.Kennedy@dtn.com
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