DTN Field Roundup

July Crops: Too Wet, Too Dry or Just Right

Emily Unglesbee
By  Emily Unglesbee , DTN Staff Reporter
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Some cracks are starting to appear in this southeast Michigan field, which went from flood to flash drought between June and July. (Photo courtesy Raymond Simpkins)

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- DTN periodically surveys a group of producers known as DTN Agronomy Advisers throughout the season for details on fieldwork, crop conditions and other issues facing agriculture.

Their responses for July read like an agricultural version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Some are way too dry, some too wet, and some just right.

"From what I have heard, we are the garden spot of the Midwest," said central Illinois grower John Werries. "I am so thankful. Our crops are so beautiful. Our agronomist describes them as 'scary good.'"

Growers in the eastern and central Corn Belt mostly echoed Werries' view, but in more southern and western regions, extreme drought conditions are taking a toll on crops and livestock. "We haven't had a real running rain since June of 2017," said Bob Birdsell of northwest Missouri.

In other parts of the Corn Belt, particularly northern Midwest states, growers are still recovering from record rainfalls in the early summer and dealing with the disease and weed control problems that followed.

DRYING OUT IS HARD TO DO

Scott Wallis turned to his family's farm records to confirm the wettest June he can remember in southwestern Indiana.

"My grandfather bought the farm where our main place is in 1951," he explained. "He wrote the rain down every day, and we have continued that since he passed away 30 years ago. June rainfall was a record for June by 4 inches, totaling 12.71 inches."

Now that his region is drying out, the crop is racing forward -- soybeans are entering R4, corn is pollinated and fungicides are hitting the field, Wallis said.

A soggy start to the summer has left weed control hopelessly behind in northwest Iowa, Jay Magnussen said.

"The worst part is that we're not going to kill all of the weeds, so we may have to go back and walk or ride the beans another time to get weed control," he said.

Crop conditions are variable in his region, Magnussen said. Soybeans range from 6 inches to nearly 3 feet, and corn condition varies by the drainage capacity of each field. "I believe we will see 50% [corn] yield swings in the same neighborhood," he predicted.

In central Ohio, Keith Peters' crops made the best of heavy June rainfalls -- but so did fungal disease spores.

"I had gray leaf spot pretty bad, so I had about 90% of my acres sprayed with fungicide," he said. "South of me just a few miles, they have had so much rain they couldn't get everything planted."

DROUGHT DRAGS DOWN YIELD

For the past two months, the severe drought plaguing the southwestern U.S. has crept steadily east, invading Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri.

"Knox County, Missouri, is hot and dry," said Clayton Kline. "Crops are green, but there are huge cracks in the ground."

Soybeans are hanging on in northwest Missouri, but corn is showing heat stress, Birdsell said. On top of drought, insects and foliar diseases are showing up, leaving farmers with a tough decision on whether to spray an increasingly low-value crop.

Irrigation pumps are working hard in eastern Arkansas, where Reed Storey is feeling grateful for the irrigation and cool nights that have given his crops a fighting chance.

In southeast Michigan, Raymond Simpkins has watched flooded June conditions give way rapidly to a flash drought this July. "Some corn is rolling during the day," he said. "Our heavy ground has big cracks in it already. Beans are kind of at a standstill."

THE BIN BUSTERS

In contrast, Gerald Gauck can't find a single thing to complain about.

"As of today, the corn and soybeans in southeastern Indiana look really good," he said. "The weather has been great, not too wet or not too dry, just right ... all is good."

Likewise in central Minnesota, Justin Honebrink couldn't have done a better job with the spigot than Mother Nature herself.

"As soon as the corn is getting ready to curl up from the heat and dryness, we get 0.5- to 1-inch of rain and it takes off again," he said. "Hard to tell yet, but I would say we are going to have another top five crop year."

Werries echoed this sentiment: "We have had just enough rain to keep our crops going strong. The main concern now is wind or hail."

Even as his region has seesawed back and forth between wet and dry this July, Josh Miller said yield estimates for corn where he farms in southern Illinois range from 185 to 205 bushels per acre.

LOUSY MARKETS FOR ALL

Across every region, farmers expressed concern over the developing trade war and falling commodity prices.

"The main thing I am concerned with right now is the low market prices," Miller said. "We have already sold all of our old crop, but we still need to sell approximately 20% of corn and 45% of our beans. Prices for both of these are looking gloomy!"

Wallis, of Indiana, sits in a similar position, with two-thirds of his new-crop corn and 40% of his new-crop soybeans still unsold. "The market and the trade war is the biggest topic here at Wallis Farms," he said.

While Peters is worried about the half of his crop yet unsold, the potential long-term ramifications of the trade war loom larger in his mind.

"We will lose our status as reliable suppliers," the Ohio farmer warned.

Emily Unglesbee can be reached at Emily.unglesbee@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @Emily_Unglesbee

(PS/AG)

Emily Unglesbee