Farmers in the U.S. in 2014 are quite possibly going to break a streak of four straight years of below-trend corn yields. That's what Iowa State University Extension climatologist Elwynn Taylor said last week when he addressed the crowd at the World Pork Expo in Des Moines.
Taylor is projecting a record national corn yield average of 169 bushels per acre based on current conditions and the anticipated arrival of an El Nino weather pattern, which is favorable for crop growth in the Corn Belt. Currently, the record U.S. corn yield average is 164.7 bushels per acre, and it was set in 2009.
The most recent data suggest El Nino will emerge by July and there is a 60% chance of it becoming a "strong" El Nino, he says. His prediction is that El Nino's effect on Iowa weather will begin to appear in August. "That will help soybeans, but not the corn crop that much. However, I expect corn to do OK based on the way it looks now. Mostly the El Nino weather pattern developing this summer will make the outlook really great for 2015 yields."
Potential is for 70% chance of above-trend U.S. corn yield
If El Nino conditions develop as he expects, there is a 70% chance of above-trend U.S. corn yields, says Taylor. Not coincidentally, the past four years of below-trend yields came while La Nina was more dominant. It was the second-strongest La Nina on record. La Nina has just the opposite effect of an El Nino—with a La Nina weather pattern, yields in the Corn Belt don't do as well.
Recent weather patterns producing above-normal moisture in the Corn Belt and below normal moisture west of the Rocky Mountains are also a good sign for corn and soybean growers in Iowa and surrounding Corn Belt states, says Taylor. "When you see weather dividing along the Continental Divide, it often stays with us for an entire growing season. If it still looks the same three weeks from now, it probably will stay with us for the entire 2014 growing season."
A more stable weather pattern would certainly be welcome this year, says Taylor. "We are due for a few good years for corn yields after four years of below-trend corn yield in the U.S. That followed six years of above trend yield, which got everybody spoiled. People would like to see a return to at least the trendline for the national corn yield average this year, if not above that average trendline."
Sharpen your risk management skills, volatile weather ahead
While El Nino may bring favorable crop growing weather to Midwest farmers the next couple of years, Taylor is telling farmers to prepare for significant weather volatility over the next two decades. "Climate risk in agriculture will likely be higher than it was in the past," he says. "All of your risk management practices in the last 6 to 8 years have been just that—practice for what is yet to come."
On June 11 USDA released its monthly update and for the 2014 growing season the government analysts point out that Midwest farmers are benefitting from favorable weather so far. USDA reiterated that farmers nationally are expect to produce record corn and soybean crops this year. USDA said farmers in the U.S. are projected to produce 13.935 billion bushels of corn and 3.65 billion bushels of soybeans this year.
U.S crop conditions currently are the best in four years
The estimates were unchanged from the government's prediction last month, providing further evidence that timely rains and the absence of searing heat have been helping farmers in Iowa and other areas of the Midwest. In its monthly report issued June 11, USDA says a slower than normal pace for planting in mid-May would be offset "by very favorable early season crop and weather conditions."
U.S. crop conditions in the most recent weekly crop progress report, based on surveys by USDA, are the best in four years for the aggregated 18 major crop reporting states and better than any time since 2007 for the Corn Belt. The USDA weekly crop and weather report issued June 8 showed 82% of Iowa's corn and 81% of the state's soybeans rated in good to excellent condition.
Larry Sailer, farming near Iowa Falls in north central Iowa, says bad weather has hurt his area the past two years, including drought in 2012 and then an early-season deluge last spring followed by dry weather during the summer. This year's conditions are now shaping up to be among the best he's seen in years, he says. "Things are looking pretty darn good right now." However, he says he's still looking for more rain to come ahead of the hot summer. Showers the past two weeks that have fallen on the fields of other farmers as close as 10 miles away from Sailer have missed the 400 acres of corn and soybeans on his farm.