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 2016. This will be the first of a two-part article, with a review of 2016 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 2016 ……
2016 will be remembered as one of the best crop production years ever in some areas of the Upper Midwest, as well as the second year in a row of near record crop yields. Farm operators in many portions of western Minnesota and eastern North Dakota experienced some of their best corn and soybean yields in their farming career this past growing season. However, in portions of south central and southwest Minnesota, northwest Iowa, and southeast South Dakota, conditions were much more variable, due to a variety of weather challenges throughout the growing season. The main weather challenge was record or near-record rainfall from May to September in some areas, which lead to flooded fields and some challenging growing conditions.
Most of the corn acres in the Upper Midwest were planted on a timely basis in late April or early May, and soybean acres were planted in May, except in the previously mentioned areas that faced weather challenges. Some portions of Southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa did not finish corn planting until late May or soybean planting until early June. Fortunately, the later planting dates were fairly well offset by the longer the normal growing season, which allowed crops to fully mature. A much bigger challenge were the heavy rainfalls in June, which totaled 10-12 inches in a few days in some portions of south central Minnesota, resulting in substantial drown-out acres. Many of these areas stayed very wet throughout the growing season, and then received another round of very heavy rainfall in mid-September, which again totaled 7-12 inches in some areas.
Crop conditions in 2016 were quite favorable in the eastern and southern Corn Belt, in states such as Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, which dealt with very poor growing conditions and reduced yields in 2015. Illinois is projected to have a record 2016 corn yield of 202 bushels per acre, compared to only 175 bushels per acre in 2015, while Indiana corn estimates are at 177 bushels per acre in 2016, compared to 150 bushels in 2015. Similarly, 2016 soybean yields in Illinois are projected at a record level of 62 bushels per acre, which compares to 56 bushels per acre in 2015, and 2016 Indiana soybean yields are estimated at 59 bushels per acre, compared to 50 bushels per acre in 2015.
In most areas of western Minnesota, and some portions of southern Minnesota, as well as in much of Iowa, the 2016 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 60 bushels per acre or higher, with some yields approaching 70 bushels per acre. There was considerable yield variation in 2016, due to the occurrence of excess rainfall, flooded fields, severe storms, and other factors, especially in some portions of the south central and southwest Minnesota and adjoining areas of Iowa. Some portions of South Dakota also became quite dry late in the growing season. Many whole farm 2016 corn and soybean yields in western Minnesota and eastern North Dakota, as well as in some locations in southern Minnesota and Iowa were reported to be among the best ever.
Based on the latest USDA Crop Report, Minnesota is projected to have a record 2016 corn yield of 190 bushels per acre, which would best the previous record yield of 188 bushels per acre in 2015, and compares to only 156 bushels per acre in 2014 and 160 bushels per acre in 2013. USDA is also estimating a record 2016 corn yield in Iowa at 199 bushels per acre, which compares to the previous record yield of 192 bushels per acre in 2015. USDA is estimating the 2016 Minnesota soybean yield to be at the record level of 52 bushels per acre, exceeding the previous record yield of 50 bushels per acre in 2015, and far exceeding the 2014 yield of 41.5 bushels per acre. The 2016 Iowa soybean yield is also estimated at a record level of 59 bushels per acre, compared to the previous record of 56.5 bushels per acre in 2015. It is very unusual for the states of Minnesota and Iowa to have record yields for both corn and soybeans two years in a row.
By the end of November, the total annual precipitation in 2016 at the University of Minnesota Southern Research Center at Waseca, Minnesota was the greatest official annual precipitation ever recorded in Minnesota history. The Waseca location had received 54.13 inches of accumulated precipitation in 2016, as of Nov. 30, based on weather data recorded at that site, which topped the previous 12-month State record official precipitation total of 53.52 inches at St. Francis, Minnesota in 1991. The 2016 precipitation total at Waseca is about 20 inches above the normal annual precipitation, and is the second year in a row of well above normal annual precipitation. Interestingly, the Waseca location was 2.62 inches below average precipitation on June 30, so all of the added precipitation came after July 1. Rainfall totals were 8.93 inches in July, 11.7 inches in August, and 14.8 inches in September, including over 10 inches in less than 48 hours on Sept. 21 and 22.
Some areas of western south central and southwest Minnesota reported even higher “unofficial” total rainfall amounts than Waseca during the 2016 growing season, due to also receiving well above average rainfall during the month of June, in addition to more springtime rainfall. The locations that were impacted by delayed planting and drown-out damage in June reported greater yield reductions than the areas that were impacted by the excess rainfall later in the growing season. The saturated soil conditions this past fall resulted in some very challenging harvest conditions, and made fall tillage and manure applications quite difficult.
Over 2,900 growing degree units (GDU’s) were accumulated at Waseca during the 2016 growing season by the time of the first killing frost on Oct. 8. This is about 18 percent above the normal annual GDU accumulation, and was the second warmest growing season ever recorded at Waseca, trailing only the drought year of 1988. The higher level of growing degree units in 2016 was due to a combination of timely planting in many areas, 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 2016 corn and soybean crop to mature naturally in the field, and helped reduce 2016 corn drying expenses. A nice stretch of weather in late October and November also helped farm operators complete the 2016 harvest season before the onset of winter conditions, even in some of the areas with extremely saturated soils.