2015 Agriculture review, part 1: Crop production and weather

2015 will be remembered as one of the best crop production years ever in many areas of the Upper Midwest. Farm operators in many portions of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and eastern South Dakota experienced some of their best corn and soybean yields in their farming careers this past growing season. Most of the corn acres in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa were planted on a timely basis in late April or early May. Similarly, most soybean acres were planted by mid-to-late May. Most areas avoided heavy rainfalls in late May and early June, resulting in very minimal drown-out acres, and there were only a few isolated severe storms during the growing season.

Crop growing conditions in much of the Upper Midwest were almost ideal throughout much of the growing season. After a fairly dry spring, many portions of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa received normal to slightly above-normal rainfall amounts during the balance of the growing season. There were a few local areas of western south-central Minnesota and eastern southwest Minnesota that got a bit dry during early August. Temperature levels during the 2015 growing season were adequate for a normal growing pattern for corn and soybeans, but did not get critically hot during sensitive stages of crop development. Finally, the growing season finished off with almost ideal harvest conditions in late September and October.

Crop conditions were not nearly as favorable in the eastern and southern Corn Belt. States including Illinois, Indiana and Missouri dealt with crop conditions in 2015 that were similar to portions of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa during the 2014 growing season. This included late corn and soybean planting, heavy rains during the early growing season that caused drown-out damage and generally poor early-season growing conditions. Weather patterns did improve in these areas later in the year; however, 2015 corn and soybean yields were reduced in several portions of this region.

In most areas of southern Minnesota, the 2015 corn and soybean yields were very good to excellent. Whole-field corn yields generally ranged from 185 to over 200 bushels per acre, while whole-field soybean yields were mostly in a range from near 50 to over 60 bushels per acre. As can be expected, there was some yield variation in 2015, due to the occurrence of timely rainfall, severe storm events and other management factors. Many whole-farm corn and soybean yields across southern and western Minnesota in 2015 were among the best ever.  

Based on the Nov. 10 Crop Report, USDA is estimating the 2015 corn yield in Minnesota at the record level of 187 bushels per acre, which is well above the 2014 statewide average yield of 156 bushels per acre, or the 2013 yield of 160 bushels per acre. The previous Minnesota record average corn yield was 177 bushels per acre in 2010. USDA is projecting Iowa to also have a record 2015 corn yield of 189 bushels per acre, which is well above the 2014 corn yield of 178 bushels per acre, and the 2013 yield of 165 bushels per acre. USDA is estimating a national average corn yield of 169.3 bushels per acre for 2015, compared to the record average U.S. corn yield of 171 bushels per acre in 2014.

USDA is estimating the 2015 Minnesota soybean yield at the record level of 50 bushels per acre, which is well above the statewide average yield of 41.5 bushels per acre in 2014. The previous state record soybean yield was 45 bushels per acre in 2010. The 2015 Iowa soybean yield is also pegged to be a record at 56 bushels per acre, which compares to 51 bushels per acre in 2014. USDA is projecting a record national average soybean yield of 48.3 bushels per acre in 2015, which surpasses the previous record national average soybean yield of 47.5 bushels per acre in 2014.

The University of Minnesota Southern Research Center at Waseca, received over 42 inches of precipitation in 2015, as of Nov. 30, according to weather data recorded at that site, and has continued to receive additional rainfall in December. This is about 8 inches above the normal annual precipitation at Waseca; however, most of the above normal precipitation amounts have occurred in the second half of 2015. The added rainfall in the second half of 2015 has helped restore stored soil moisture levels to near capacity in most areas of south-central and southeast Minnesota. By comparison, many portions of southwest and west-central Minnesota have received far lower amounts of precipitation during the last half of 2015, and have stored soil moisture levels that are near normal to slightly below normal at many locations.

Over 2,700 growing degree units were accumulated at Waseca during the 2015 growing season, which is more than 10% above normal. The higher level of growing degree units in 2015 was due to a combination of warmer than normal temperatures in the last half of the growing season, as well as a very long growing season, which extended well into October in most areas. This longer growing season allowed the 2015 corn and soybean crop to mature naturally in the field, and helped reduce 2015 corn drying expenses.

TAGS: Soybeans
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