One of the biggest topics of discussion throughout the Corn Belt these days isn’t necessarily the trade war, low crop prices or even attacks on ethanol. It involves a certain F-word: frost. That might not have been the first word that came to mind, but it’s something that’s of extremely great concern to farmers right now. Can they expect an early frost this year? Will crops mature in time?
Donelle Eller of The Des Moines Register reported that at the end of last week that many Iowa farmers are on “Freeze Watch.” In certain areas of the Midwest- especially Iowa- corn and soybeans were planted late this season due to extremely wet and cold spring conditions. Many farmers there are already facing a 15-20% yield loss because corn and soybeans were planted two weeks or even a month behind schedule. It’s reported that 20% of Iowa’s corn crop was planted late. Iowa soybeans, though planted late, have largely caught up.
At least that’s some good news.
Iowa farmers are right to worry. Even a “normal” freeze could hurt this year. Corn crops that freeze before they’re fully mature must go through an added step (and expense) of drying. Temperatures below 28 degrees Fahrenheit are typically seen in Iowa during the month of October. Farmers there are largely hoping that the first freeze is closer to Halloween.
Frost concerns aren’t limited to the state of Iowa. Emily Unglesbee of DTNPF reports that this worry is being felt across the Corn Belt.
“The biggest stressor right now is will the crop finish ahead of frost,” confirmed Bob Birdsell, a farmer in northwest Missouri. “An early one would be a disaster.”
So, what are the predictions?
Will Crops Mature?
Unglesbee says that there’s a line dividing the northern and southern Corn Belt in the “Great Frost Speculation of 2019.” There’s a lot of optimism in states like Missouri, Arkansas, Indiana and southern Illinois, where it’s widely believed that crops will have ample time to mature. Farmers in more northern states like in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Michigan, are more fearful that crops won’t mature before the first frost.
In southern Minnesota, farmer and Ag consultant Mark Nowak has been working out the numbers throughout the summer. Right now, his calculations are pretty disappointing.
“Most of our 105-day corn needs 2,500 GDUs to reach black layer,” he explained. “That puts us out to October 10. Normal first frost for Nowak Farms is October 5.”
Nowak is actually ahead of many in his region; he planted most of his corn in early May while many Minnesota acres were planted after May 20. “[I see] a 50-50 chance that a normal first frost or close to there will wipe out half a billion bushels of corn,” he concluded.
In southeast Michigan, some corn hasn’t even tasseled yet. Raymond Simpkins is monitoring a similar situation.
“We probably need until the third week of October for good maturity,” he said. “We usually get a hard frost the first week of October.”
Weather Forecasts for Northern Plains
Frost concerns are on the minds of South Dakota farmers too. Laura Edwards, a climatologist for the SDSU Extension says late spring planting combined with cooler than normal summer temperatures has let to slow maturing crops. Edwards says that the weather outlook for South Dakota appears to be positive for the next two to four weeks. Next week is predicted to be warmer than normal, and that may help to delay the hard frost.
Edwards says that although it will be warmer, it also may be wetter- making dry down more challenging. It’s for certain though, that each extra day of warmer weather will prove needed.
On the flip side, Tyne Morgan of AgWeb reports an opposite forecast. She says that the next 30 days will bring lower than normal temperatures to the northern plains. The prediction comes from U.S. Farm Report Meteorologist Mike Hoffman. Hoffman is expecting lower than normal temperatures for the Northern Plains and average temperatures for the rest of the Midwest. Hoffman and Edwards do agree, however, that the Northern Plains may see more moisture.
Chris Dolce of The Weather Channel is also predicting a cooler than normal September for the Northern Plains, especially in the Dakotas, Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin.
It’s hard to know what to expect when it comes to the weather, but that’s nothing new. It’s certainly true for most things when it has come to Agriculture in 2019. Most of our sources point towards a cooler September, which could be bad news for those farmer that had to plant their crops late. Some farmers are optimistic and hopeful that their crops will mature in time, others aren’t. Just about everybody is on “freeze watch,” waiting and wondering when the time will come.