Fall Downpours Causing Major Damage To Unharvested US Grain Crop

Guide Rock farmer Jim Richardson says the quality of the 2009 corn crop in the Republican River Valley of Nebraska has now deteriorated to the point where the top 3 inches of unharvested ears are simply rotting off and falling to the ground.

“My neighbor say it’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen…they pull into the field with the combine and see all these half-ears laying all over,” he said. “It seems to be connected to variety…and all this rain.”

The variety of moisture-loving pathogens reportedly affecting unpicked U.S. row crops reads like the nutrition label of a Halloween witches brew: mycotoxins, mold, mildew, fungus, and other diseases.

Most sections of the U.S. grain belt have received more than twice as much precipitation as normal this month, causing unprecedented delays in the harvest of the nation’s two-most important cash-crops. The resulting quality degradation is so bad that some producers are harvesting their remaining acreage with a plow, instead of a combine.

“We’ve had 28 inches of rain here since Oct. 1,” southwestern Arkansas grower Jim Caswell told Dow Jones Newswires Monday. “There is a big farmer down here who’s disking under 7,000 acres of corn, because it’s got such bad mold that the elevator won’t take it anymore…and it’d been yielding 185 (bushels an acre).”

Overripe grain in the Delta is under the greatest threat of deterioration, with many fields standing exposed to weeks of nearly continuous rain.

“The longer it’s out in the field, the more likely it will develop grain quality problems, weak stalks or seed quality damage,” said Jim Herbek, grain crops specialist with the University of Kentucky.

Harvest figures released by USDA Monday said half of the nation’s top-producing corn states still had more than 80-90% of their corn and half of their soybeans standing in the field, at a time when some are nearing completion.

“You can’t find a year in USDA’s data (which goes back to 1972) on corn harvest activity that is as slow as this year [20% complete]. Period. That underscores just how tough this fall has been,” said Roger Bernard of Pro Farmer. “In soybeans, the 44% complete on harvest is the slowest pace since 1985 and 1986.”

Harvest season rains have robbed southern soybean growers of what was expected to be a bumper crop.

“We were harvesting a beautiful crop with outstanding yields before the rains came the last two weeks of September,” said Trey Koger, soybean specialist with the Mississippi State University extension service. “We are seeing average yield losses of 5-10%. We’re seeing damage from 2% to 80%.”

Since Sept. 13, the portion of Mississippi’s soybean crop rated in poor to very poor condition jumped from 10% to 47%.

“Research from the University of Wisconsin shows a four-week delay to harvest can reduce [soybean] yield by 11.5%. If soybean harvest is delayed six weeks it can cut yield by 14%,” said Iowa commodity trade adviser Karl Setzer. “This could drop yields as low as 36 bushels per acre compared to the USDA estimate for 42.4 bushels.”

Monday’s USDA data indicates there are still nearly 10.4 billion bushels of corn, and 1.82 billion bushels of soybeans waiting to enter the U.S. grain bins.

Quality problems are currently having a dual impact on the cash grain market.

“This could make much of the grain unusable for needs, especially food products and ethanol production. Terminals in the Delta report being filled with poor quality grain and are having a hard time moving it into the export market,” said Setzer. “It is making end-users such as ethanol manufacturers pay a premium for higher quality grain. Shippers are also paying a premium for good corn, to blend in with poorer inventory, so they can move it. Several buyers are not able to secure enough high-quality grain to blend with this inventory, even with a price incentive.”

Top Third Ag Marketing analyst Mark Gold says historically, corn quality is an issue best resolved in the cash market via basis—the premiums/discounts applied to underlying futures prices used to calculate local farm gate bids.

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