The latest weekly report from the US Department of Agriculture shows the US corn crop deteriorated by the most in nearly three years as drought conditions worsened in the Midwest.
About 64% of the nation’s corn crop was rated good-to-excellent in the weekly report, a five percentage-point plunge that was the most significant decline since August 2020. The drop was more than double of any analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.
According to the US Drought Monitor, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin, often called the “Corn Belt” states, are experiencing “exceptional drought” to “moderate drought.” The timing of the drought, this early in the season, could stress young plants.
“Soil moisture levels decreased sharply,” the USDA’s Indiana field office noted in the report.
It’s 89F and the Timber ground near Taylorville, IL is always the first to show signs of drought stress of corn. My lawn and hydrangea are also the other first natural indicators of drought stress. pic.twitter.com/AKazB1PA8y
— Stephanie Porter (@skporter) June 1, 2023
— Phillips Ag Center (@PhillipsAgCentr) May 31, 2023
The drought, according to Newsweek, could be the worst in three decades “since the 1983–1985 North American drought.”
It’s still uncertain whether the report will be sufficient to stabilize Corn futures.
And maybe the drought in Corn Belt states is being exacerbated by El Nino.
We’ve explained to readers: “El Nino Watch Initiated As Ag-Industry In Crosshairs.”
The latest U.S. Drought Monitor paints two very different pictures across the country: A remarkable recovery in drought across the Plains versus declining conditions in the Midwest, as drought expands its grip and moves into the East. Farmers in Corn Belt states are concerned about the impact on crop conditions, especially in areas where the subsoil moisture has been depleted over the past year.
USDA Meteorologist Brad Rippey, who helps author the drought monitor, says the changes in the map over the past four weeks show the story best, with some major improvements across the Plains and with deepening drought in the Midwest.
While several areas in the central Corn Belt are experiencing drought, the dryness has been parked in the western Corn Belt longer, Rippey says, which is a key factor when you consider soil moisture and now short-term dryness compounding with the longer-term drought situation.
“The drier areas west of the Mississippi include Nebraska and western Iowa; those areas have been dry much longer,” Rippey says. “You see a dry signal in those areas going back up to a year or more.”
Communities around Omaha and Lincoln, Neb., and into western Iowa, have been running out of water, which is a reflection of the longer-term drought picture.
“This spring, we have had short-term drought on top of that long-term drought, so we’re seeing a big array of problems, everything from browning pastures to stress on emerging summer crops,” Rippey says.
East of the Mississippi, in states such as Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio, Rippey says farmers are seeing a short-term dry signal.
“We still have plenty of subsoil moisture. If we get the crops emerged and established, those roots should be able to reach down into that subsoil moisture. But for the time being, it’s extremely dry on the surface. Just a few weeks of dryness has depleted that upper level of soil moisture, which makes it tough to get the crop evenly emerged and established,” Rippey says. “If we can just get a little bit of rain in the next few weeks that should help the crops, and then get the crops into that deeper soil moisture.”
USDA shows 34% of the corn crop is currently in drought, and 28% of the soybean crop is experiencing drought conditions. With little to no rain in the forecast, it could impact crop conditions.
“Certainly in the short-term, we’ve got that blocking high in place over the Midwest up into eastern Canada, which is keeping the moisture out. We’ve seen a few showers break out west of the Mississippi, but at least for the next seven to 10 days it looks bone dry for the eastern Corn Belt. The flash drought will continue to evolve, likely making that transition from abnormal dryness into the lower drought categories over the next week or two unless we see an unexpected change.”
U.S. corn crop conditions are currently better than a year ago. USDA is now including condition ratings in its Crop Progress report, and the figures released by USDA-NASS on Tuesday showed 73% of the corn crop is rated good to excellent versus 69% the same time last year.
The Other Extreme
While shades of yellow and orange expand over the Corn Belt signaling drought is intensifying, areas in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas are seeing improvement. Some parts of Texas recorded the wettest May on record, which is prompting planting delays.
“Some areas in the High Plains region, from southwestern Nebraska to Texas, picked up more than 10 inches of rain in a few locations,” Rippey says. “It was the wettest May on record. We went from D3 and D4 extremes to exceptional drought to flash flooding and planting delays in a period of three to four weeks, which is truly remarkable change,” he adds.