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Corn, soybean crops behind schedule; at risk of early freeze damage

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Soybean field
Alan Roelofs examines a soybean field on his farm near Tyler in southwest Minnesota. Corn and soybean prices have fluctuated in recent weeks. But today, both corn and soybean prices moved sharply higher because of dry weather concerns. Corn rose more than 20 cents a bushel, or about 4 percent.
MPR Photo/Mark Steil

"This is a critical time for moisture for the soybeans and also the corn."

Minnesota corn and soybean crops are still behind schedule for this time of year, leaving some farmers worried that developing plants would be susceptible to damage if there is an early frost this fall.

Only 27 percent of the corn crop has reached the stage where kernels are filling with nutrients - far less than the 47 percent healthy corn crop that is normal for this time of year, according to the latest crop report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

That means the crops could be at risk if an unusually early freeze occurs in mid-September.

Crops playing catch-up

After a so-called spring that saw heavy snow in some fields as late as May, crops around the state have struggled all summer to catch up. A streak of rainy weather also delayed planting. A run of cool weather in July and early August also hurt development.

The warmer weather forecast for the next week, including some 90 degree temperatures, should speed crop maturity, and lessen the risk of damage from a frost a little.

But the heat is not totally beneficial, because it could lead to drier than optimal soil conditions, said Chad Willis, who farms near Willmar in central Minnesota.

"We could use a shot of rain too," Willis said.  "This is a critical time for moisture for the soybeans and also the corn."

Although nothing like last year's drought, dry conditions are taking hold again in parts of Minnesota. The latest drought monitor map shows abnormally dry conditions stretching across southwest and central parts of the state.  Northwest Minnesota also needs rain. And it's not just Minnesota. Dry conditions are increasing across much of the western corn belt, including Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois.

"If the temperatures remain warm, the crop could catch back up within a few days of where it should be."

The moisture deficit is pushing up crop prices because traders are worried it will reduce the number of bushels harvested this fall, said Scott Strand a commodity advisor for Northstar Commodity in Minneapolis.

As temperature rises, so do crop prices

Both corn and soybean prices moved sharply higher today because of dry weather concerns. Corn rose more than 20 cents a bushel, or about 4 percent.

In Minnesota, the dry weather may do more good than harm because every nice day reduces the risk of significant crop damage should the state experience an early freeze.

Willis said an early spell of cold weather would cut his corn crop significantly, perhaps by 7 percent or more.

But if cold weather does not arrive until the median first frost date of Oct. 3, Willis said his crops should survive. The corn crop needs another six weeks or more to reach maturity, he said.

University of Minnesota agronomist Jeff Coulter said the state's corn crop is seven to 10 days behind schedule. He said above normal weather into September though would reduce that deficit. 

"I would say that if the temperatures remain warm, the crop could catch back up within a few days of where it should be," he said.

That could make much more of the crop safe from damage should freezing temperatures come early.

But the growing dryness is also a concern. Coulter it probably hurts soybeans more than corn. But both crops need late season rains to reach their full potential.