The Van Trump Report

Comparing Outcomes of Late Corn Planting Years

USDA’s most recent Crop Progress report showed the US corn crop 91% planted as of week 22 vs. the USDA estimating the crop just 83% planted last week (week 21), which had us on pace for the third slowest planting of the last two decades. The slowest planting year by far was 2019 when just 67% of the crop was in the ground by this point and only reached 96% planted by week 25. Another slow start came in 2009 when 82% was planted by week 21, just slightly less than this year’s pace.

As you can see from the chart below, delayed planting does not necessarily mean we are destined to have a low-yield corn crop. And while being less than 90% by this point rarely results in record-setting yields, it has happened. At the same time, a fast and furious planting pace doesn’t guarantee a high-yield crop…hello 2012!

The planting pace in 2009 and 2019 was hindered by rainy weather, similar to this season’s struggles. In 2009, when the planting pace was 82% by week 21, soggy ground primarily impacted planting in the eastern Corn Belt. However, perfect weather in western states like Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota helped offset losses. When all was said and done, the 2009/10 crop delivered a record yield of 164.4 bushels per acre (bpa) with total production reaching just over 13 million metric tons (mmt), also a record at the time.

Delayed planting due to excessive rains was the theme in 2019 as well, though conditions were considerably worse than what we have witnessed this year. In fact, 2019 was the most delayed US corn planting on record. The crop was less than 70% planted by this point with big production states like Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana hit hard. By June 3rd, Illinois farmers had only 35% of a crop in the ground versus 100% in 2018 while Indiana was just 22% complete versus 95% the previous year. Iowa corn growers were less delayed, with 76% planted by week 21, but they are also typically near done by that point in a normal year.  

Total US corn production in 2019 ended up declining by just over -5% from 2018, with the crop coming in at about 13.5 billion bushels versus 14.3 billion the previous year. Not surprisingly, there was a high number of Prevented Plant. Still, it was a much larger crop than expected with a much better national yield than most anticipated. Iowa yields did surprisingly well that year, climbing to 198 bpa versus 196 in 2018. However, Illinois and Indiana were hit hard. Illinois corn yields fell a whopping -14% from 2018 while Indiana took an -11% hit. Keep in mind, the 2019 crop suffered weather headwinds from planting all the way through harvest, so the entire growing season took a toll, not just the late start.

The lowest corn yielding year of the last 20 was easily 2012 which was hit by extreme heat and drought. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), drought conditions affected approximately 80% of U.S. agricultural land in the summer of 2012. These conditions impacted Corn Belt states during the critical pollination and grain-filling phases. The pollination period is crucial because it is when the corn plant determines how many viable kernels it can grow per ear. Kernel size and weight are then influenced by conditions during the grain-filling stage.

In 2012, the drought conditions and high sustained temperatures from June through August damaged crops severely. By mid-August, 60% of U.S. farms were suffering from moderate to extreme drought. The impact was especially severe in major corn-producing states, such as Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Michigan, Missouri, and Kansas. By September 30, only 25% of corn acreage was rated as being in good or excellent condition, compared with 52% at the same time in 2011.

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