Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

2012: Agricultural year in review

By Kent Thiesse

Date Modified: 01/07/2013 1:58 PM

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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 2012. This will be a two-part article, with a review of 2012 crop production and weather conditions this week, and a review of livestock production, input costs, and grain prices next week. Following are some highlights regarding crop production and weather conditions for 2012.

Crop Production — 2012 will be remembered as the year of "the Drought," and a crop year with weather extremes and highly variable crop conditions in many areas of Minnesota. The year started out with earlier than normal corn planting in most of the state, with a large majority corn planted in April or very early May. Warmer than normal temperatures, along with adequate top soil moisture, resulted in excellent crop germination, and allowed the 2012 corn and soybean crop to get off to a good start. The month of May had 150-200 % of normal rainfall in much of the Southern half of Minnesota, which allowed for restoration of stored soil moisture levels to near capacity levels in many areas. The soil moisture reserves proved to be quite beneficial later in the growing season, which featured well below normal precipitation levels in most areas after mid-June. The very warm, dry weather pattern throughout much of the growing season lead to rapid development, maturity, and dry-down of the 2012 corn and soybean crop, which resulted in an early harvest season.

In most areas of South Central and Southwestern Minnesota, the 2012 crop yields were highly variable, mainly due to the extremes in weather conditions during the growing season. Whole field corn yields generally ranged from 140-190 bushels per acre, while whole-field soybean yields were mostly in a range from 35-55 bushels per acre, with some exceptional yields exceeding these ranges. There were large yield variations in 2012, sometimes occurring on the same farm, in the same township, or even in the same field. Some lower whole-field yield levels existed in areas that were hard-hit by the very dry late season weather pattern, or by severe storms earlier in the growing season. Some higher yield levels occurred in West Central and Southeastern Minnesota, which received more timely rainfall, and had a bit more favorable growing conditions later in the growing season.

Other good news with the 2012 corn harvest, besides the better than expected yields, was the dryness of the corn and the quality of the corn at harvest. Most of the corn harvested in Southern Minnesota in September and early October was at moisture levels of 13-17 percent, meaning it could go directly to farm grain bins without additional drying, or could be hauled to grain warehouses with little or no price dockage for excess kernel moisture. Most of the 2012 corn crop was also harvested with a test weight of 56-60 pounds per bushel, which is at or above the standard test weight of 56 pounds per bushel.

Based on the most recent USDA Crop Report, the estimated 2012 corn yield for Minnesota is 168 bushels per acre, which is the highest of the major corn producing states in the U.S., and is well above the projected 2012 national average corn yield of 122.3 bushels per acre. Other drought-reduced 2012 average USDA corn yield estimates are Iowa at 139 bushels per acre, Illinois at of 101 bushels per acre, Indiana at 100 bushels per acre, Nebraska at 139 bushels per acre, and South Dakota at 94 bushels per acre. All of these estimated 2012 statewide corn yields are well below average statewide yields in recent years. The projected 2012 Minnesota corn yield of 168 bushels per acre is an increase of 12 bushels for acre from the 2011 statewide corn yield of 156 bushels per acre, but is still well below Minnesota's record average corn yield of 177 bushels per acre in 2010.

USDA is estimating the average national soybean yield for 2012 at 39.3 bushels per acre, which is well below recent national average soybean yields of 41.9 bushels per acre in 2011, 43.5 bushels per acre in 2010, and the record U.S. soybean yield of 44.0 bushels per acre in 2009. USDA estimated the 2012 Minnesota soybean yield at 43 bushels per acre, which is an increase of 4 bushels per acre from the 2011 Minnesota soybean yield of 39 bushels per acre, but is still below the State record soybean yield of 45 bushels per acre, set in 2010. The 2012 Iowa soybean yield is estimated at 44 bushels per acre, compared to 51.5 bushels per acre in 2011.

Drought Conditions Persist — The continued drought across the region and much of the primary crop growing areas of the U.S. is certainly a concern as we look forward to the 2013 growing season. Stored soil moisture levels in most of Southern and Western Minnesota are at historically low levels. Nearly all reporting stations have two inches or less of stored soil moisture in the top five feet of soil, compared to normal levels of six to eight inches of stored soil moisture following the growing season. Most of Southwest and South Central Minnesota is listed as being in an "Extreme Drought", according to the latest national "Drought Monitor" estimates, with nearly the entire State categorized as being in a "Moderate, Severe, or Extreme Drought". One year ago in December, 2011, about 57 percent of the State was categorized in a "Moderate Drought" or worse, with no areas of the State considered to be in an "Extreme Drought". The ongoing drought conditions are also highly visible with the extremely low levels of lakes, rivers, and streams across many areas of Minnesota.

According to precipitation data at the University of Minnesota Southern Research Center at Waseca, the region has been in drought-like conditions for the past 16 months. From August 1, 2011, to November 30, 2012, Waseca has received only about 60 percent of their normal precipitation during that period, receiving nearly 19 inches of total precipitation less than normal. For the 3-month period from July 1 to September 30, 2012, Waseca received only 4.49 inches of total rainfall, compared to a normal amount of 12.24 inches, which is 37 percent of normal. Some areas of western South Central Minnesota and Southwestern Minnesota received even less rainfall than Waseca during that period.

The only two months in 2012 that Waseca received significantly above normal precipitation were in May with +1.81 inches, and in February with +1.29 inches, with nearly two inches coming as rainfall on February 29. Those two months helped replenish depleted stored soil moisture supplies, which ultimately helped lead to the better than expected 2012 corn and soybean yields in many areas of Southern Minnesota, even though the later growing season was extremely dry. The region will need a similar occurrence again in 2013 in order to achieve favorable crop yields again next year.