Rain, early snows delay U.S. harvest in latest blow to farmers
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[November 01, 2019]
By Julie Ingwersen
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Excessive rains and an
October snowstorm have stalled the harvest in the U.S. grain belt's
northern tier, one more blow to farmers already struggling with the
effects of planting delays and a trade war that has pressured commodity
The corn and soybean harvests are especially delayed in North Dakota and
Minnesota - precisely the states suffering the most from the U.S.-China
trade war due to their reliance on exporting to Asia through West Coast
"It's bad, I'm not going to lie. We have just been inundated with too
much water," said Daniel Younggren, who grows sugarbeets, soybeans and
wheat in Hallock, Minnesota, near the North Dakota border.
In Minnesota, the No. 3 U.S. soybean producer, farmers harvested 62% of
their soybeans through Oct. 27, compared with the five-year average of
93%. In North Dakota, the No. 8 soy state, farmers collected just 29% of
their soybeans and 6% of their corn as they battle wet conditions that
leave the ground too soft to support harvest equipment.
Growers in the United States - the world's biggest corn supplier and the
second-largest soy exporter - expected a late harvest following rains
that delayed planting across the Midwest last spring.
But storms struck again this autumn, saturating the Corn Belt's northern
tier at a time when shorter, cooler days limit evaporation. Grand Forks,
North Dakota, on the Minnesota border, received 11.6 inches (29.4 cm) of
rain from Sept. 1 through Oct. 24, five times the average, the National
Weather Service said.
Nationwide, the corn crop was 41% harvested as of Sunday and soybeans
were 62% collected, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
That is the slowest pace in a decade, and down from the
five-year-average of 61% for corn and 78% for soybeans.
As the harvest drags on, farmers already stressed by tight profit
margins will likely face extra costs for equipment repairs, diesel fuel
and propane to dry stored grain that will not dry adequately in the
field. The financial squeeze could be enough to push even more farmers
out of business.
"It's been getting tougher. This year, there is a lot of fear that it
could be the 'hammer year,'" said Andy Swenson, an agricultural
economist with North Dakota State University (NDSU).
He said North Dakota farmers who were unable to plant this year due to
bad weather might actually be better off, if they were able to avoid
production costs and collect a crop insurance payment.
Minnesota and North Dakota are also the largest U.S. growers of
sugarbeets, a high-value crop that Younggren said has kept his farm
afloat in recent years as prices for wheat, soybeans and corn have
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The sun lights a corn field waiting to be harvested near Akron,
Iowa, U.S., October 28, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo
He may be forced to abandon some sugarbeets until spring - though
soybeans could still be salvaged from frozen ground.
"If I've got to go out when it's 18 degrees (Fahrenheit) and combine
soybeans, then that's what we are going to do," Younggren said,
adding, "In October, you are playing Russian roulette with the
The late-harvest woes extend north into the Canadian Prairies, which
produce more canola than any other country and some of the world's
biggest spring wheat crops. Canada is also in a diplomatic spat with
China, hitting canola sales and farmers' wallets.
GRAIN QUALITY IN QUESTION
Wet or humid conditions, delays and stress from extreme temperatures
can all elevate the risk of mold in grain, said Dr Alexandra Weaver
of Alltech Inc, a Kentucky-based feed supplement company. Some types
of mold can produce mycotoxins in feedgrains that can sicken
livestock, and farmers are forced to sell damaged grain at a steep
It is too soon to gauge the quality of the 2019 U.S. corn crop,
Weaver said. But early samples of silage corn - a feedstuff made
from chopped whole corn plants - indicate higher-than-normal
concentrations of two mycotoxins, vomitoxin and zearalenone, she
In Canada, one-quarter of Saskatchewan's spring wheat crop looked
unsuitable for milling, according to provincial government estimates
in early October. The norm is 10%, according to Chuck Penner,
analyst at LeftField Commodity Research. Such a quality drop-off
could curb Canadian exports, he said.
Soybeans may be losing yield just by standing in the field,
especially after repeated wet-dry weather cycles. Mature soybean
pods are prone to shattering, spilling beans onto the ground where
combines cannot reach.
"The longer we stay in this weather pattern ... the more loss will
occur out in the fields," said Ken Hellevang, a North Dakota State
University agricultural engineering professor.
(Reporting by Julie Ingwersen in Chicago; Additional reporting by
Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by Matthew Lewis)
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