As we reach the end of the year, it is a good time to reflect on what happened agriculturally in the region and across the United States in 2014. This will be the first of a two-part article, with a review of 2014 crop production and weather conditions this week, and a review of livestock production, input costs, grain prices and the overall farm economy next week. Following are some highlights regarding crop production and weather conditions for 2014.
2014 will be remembered as the second crop year in a row with weather extremes and highly variable crop conditions in many areas of Minnesota and Iowa. Persistent very wet soil conditions in much of south-central, east-central and southeastern Minnesota during April and May resulted in a large amount of corn acres in those areas being planted in late May or early June. There was a significant amount of prevented planted acres in some central Minnesota counties. Soybean planting dates in that same region were delayed until mid-to-late June, with some planting dates extending into early July. Planting dates in southwest Minnesota and the western half of south-central Minnesota, as well as adjoining areas of northern Iowa, were later than normal; however, most corn was planted in May, and most growers finished with soybean planting by early June.
Many portions of the eastern half of Minnesota received two to three times the normal amount of rainfall during the month of June, with some very heavy rainfall events and severe storms in parts of the region that caused significant crop loss in some areas. The 2014 corn and soybean crop in many areas of south-central and southeast Minnesota never fully recovered from the cool, wet start to the growing season. The extra rainfall early in the growing season did allow for restoration of stored soil moisture levels to near maximum levels in many areas, which proved to be quite beneficial later in the growing season, when precipitation levels in many areas were well below normal.
A mid-September frost across a wide area of south-central Minnesota and north-central Iowa resulted in an early end to a growing season, which already featured later than normal maturing crops. The end result was some very disappointing corn and soybean yields in many areas of Minnesota and northern Iowa. There was a portion of southwest and west-central Minnesota that had more favorable growing conditions in 2014, and that missed the mid-September frost, which had much better crop yields.
In most areas of southern Minnesota, the 2014 crop yields were highly variable, mainly due to the extremes in weather conditions during the growing season. Whole field corn yields generally ranged from 100 to 200 bushels per acre, while whole-field soybean yields were mostly in a range from 30 to 60 bushels per acre. There were large yield variations in 2014, sometimes occurring in the same township, on the same farm, or even in the same field. Most whole-farm corn and soybean yields in south-central Minnesota were below long-term averages in 2014.
Very favorable growing conditions in the eastern Corn Belt resulted in USDA estimating a record national average corn yield of 173.4 bushels per acre for 2014, compared to 158.8 bushels per acre in 2013.
The University of Minnesota Southern Research and Outreach Center at Waseca, Minn., has received nearly 36 inches of precipitation in 2014, as of mid-December, according to weather data recorded at that site. This is about 1.50 inches above the normal annual precipitation at Waseca; however, nearly 13 inches of that total amount were recorded during the month of June. Waseca has recorded below-normal precipitation in every month in 2014 since June. The 2014 growing season also featured below-average temperatures at Waseca in every month except August, which was only slightly above normal. When the early frost ended the growing season at Waseca on September 14, only 2,235 growing degree units (GDUs) had been accumulated. This was about 235 GDUs below the normal season-long GDU accumulation at Waseca, and was well short of the required GDUs for full-season corn hybrids to reach maturity.