Spring planting has been behind schedule all spring, as cooler weather and erratic storms have kept farmers out of the field. However, crop farmers made big strides last week.
“For several days in mid-May, corn planting and other Midwestern fieldwork accelerated in advance of a developing storm. Producers planted 43 percent of the U.S. corn crop during the week ending May 19, tying a weekly record set from May 4-10, 1992. However, heavy rain eventually overspread the northern Plains and Midwest, halting planting progress but providing further drought relief or eradication,” said Brad Rippey, U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The much needed moisture also fell in Colorado. “Much needed precipitation fell across Colorado last week with the heaviest amounts concentrated to the east. Planting progress improved significantly as weather conditions improved, allowing producers to wrap up planting of small grains,” according to the May 20 Colorado Crop Progress Report, Colorado Field Office.
The report showed that Colorado farmers are behind on their planting, but are quickly catching up. “The corn crop was 59 percent planted, behind 93 percent last year and 82 percent on average. Sixteen percent had emerged, up 15 percentage points from last week.”
According to the report, farmers were allowed 6.1 days in the field, which greatly helped. Overall, 46.07 percent of the U.S. is classified under drought, down from 47.66 percent last week.
Even with the drought, the USDA is predicting a record corn crop. The May World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report, released May 10, shows that a record corn crop is still reachable despite a slow start to planting season.
The report forecasts a corn yield of 158 bushels per acre, implying a record crop of 14.14 billion bushels, up 3.36 billion bushels from 2012 when much of the nation was overtaken by severe drought. The current record corn crop was produced in 2009 at 13.09 billion bushels.
“We are currently experiencing the latest planting season in nearly three decades across the Corn Belt due to extensive snow, rain and cool weather,” said American Farm Bureau economist Todd Davis. “The May report reflects concerns due to heavy soil moisture. As of May 5, 12 percent of the U.S. corn crop was planted – only eight percent in Iowa, seven percent in Illinois and eight percent in Indiana.”
The report projects that if this large crop is realized, corn stocks could increase to slightly more than two billion bushels, reducing forecast farm-level price to less than $5 per bushel. This is down from $6.90 per bushel for the 2012-13 marketing year.
Davis said export predictions are down from the February outlook conference and use projections may be overly generous.
“The U.S. will still have to compete in the export market this fall with Brazil, which will be producing its second corn crop of the year,” explained Davis. “USDA use projections might be optimistic moving forward. They are predicting a 925 million bushel increase in feed use and a 550 million bushel increase in exports from 2012-13.”
In Colorado, other field crops are also catching up. “Planting of onions was virtually complete by week’s end at 98 percent. Planting of sugar beets advanced 23 percentage points from last week to 66 percent by week’s end while 22 percent had emerged. Fall potatoes were 70 percent planted by week’s end, a considerable gain of 35 percentage points from last week. Summer potatoes were 77 percent planted, compared with 96 percent last year and the average of 63 percent. Eleven percent of the crop had emerged. Sunflowers were 3 percent planted, behind 15 percent last year and the average of 11 percent. Three percent of the sorghum crop was planted by week’s end, behind last year and the average,” the crop progress report stated.
Even though soybeans are not largely grown in Colorado, they are grown in many neighboring states. Like corn, the May WASDE report also forecasts a record year for the soybean crop, projecting 3.39 billion bushels, up 375 million bushels from 2012. Soybean stocks are expected to increase to 265 million bushels, up 140 million from 2012-13 marketing year, with the stocks-to-use ratio at 8.1 percent. The farm price for the crop is also down from the year before, from $14.30 per bushel in 2012-13 to $10.50 per bushel.
The U.S. soybean crop will also have to compete with the South American crop that will be harvested six months into the marketing year. Due to the counter-seasonal production cycle, the marketing window for U.S. soy exports can be fairly short.
Davis said ultimately the weather will be the deciding factor of the report’s predictions.
“All of this is still in the hands of Mother Nature. She will dictate the weather to allow for the amount of corn and soybeans that will be planted and the growing season weather,” Davis said. “The May WASDE is a good starting point for the projections but there is a long way to go before the uncertainty of 2013 production and stocks become resolved.”
Pasture conditions are improving somewhat, which comes as a relief to livestock producers. “As a result of last week’s precipitation and climbing temperatures, pasture and range conditions continued to improve. Forty-eight percent was rated very poor to poor, compared with 64 percent the week prior. This is compared with the five-year average of 28 percent very poor to poor. The first cutting of alfalfa has started, and was 2 percent completed by week’s end.”
However, the pastures in general are still struggling in Colorado and surrounding states. “On May 19, USDA reported that at least 40 percent of the rangeland and pastures were rated very poor to poor in seven of the eleven Western States. New Mexico topped the list, with 98 percent of its rangeland and pastures rated very poor to poor, followed by Nevada (69 percent), Arizona (63 percent), Colorado (48 percent), Montana (47 percent), Wyoming (46 percent), and California (40 percent). In addition, below-average statewide reservoir storage affected five Western States: Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Oregon,” said Rippey.
More than half of the nation’s cattle reside in the seven Western states with at least 40 percent of its rangeland in poor condition.
Farmers and livestock producers continue to hope for moisture, and for the drought to ease. Irrigated farmers will have more control, but dry land farmers will be at the mercy of Mother Nature. ❖