As I type this update we are one week away from Thanksgiving here in the US. This is normally a period of transition as we are completing combining corn (maize). However, like everything in 2020, this was a growing season that was unlike all before it.
What started was favourable weather in the spring that allowed us to have all acres planted earlier than any year on record. A spring season without major weather delays was a welcome surprise considering the last five years of delays and obviously a new pandemic that had started to have a major impact on the ag industry as spring began. The warm and dry weather that led to a fast planting season unfortunately stuck around and turned into a summer that a majority of the US Cornbelt was classified as being in a drought.
Where I farm in Western Iowa, we were lucky enough to catch a few raindrops early in the summer that kept us in better conditions than others. However, by the time rain came again in late summer we were already seeing yield losses. To add insult to injury, in the middle of a drought, we experienced a Derecho (inland hurricane) on August 10th. The hurricane damaged 14 million acres of corn and soybeans in Iowa, of which 850,000 acres were a complete loss. Across the entire cornbelt, over 37 million acres were damaged and the region also lost more than 200 million bushels of grain storage in the storm.
The warm dry growing season however meant an early start to harvest. My family farm started combining soybeans in early September and the dry weather we experienced all growing season continued into the fall which allowed us to finish combining corn by October 30th. Fall of 2020 ended up being our earliest harvest in well over 30 years. My reason for bringing up Thanksgiving earlier was to highlight that three out of the last four years we were still combining on Thanksgiving and the other year we finished the day before.
We have had some very wet falls which have created harvest delays over the last 10 years. While the yield loss of a dry year is a challenge, an early fall has also created opportunities for farmers in the region to get ahead of the 2021 growing season.
Historically the second half of November is a race to finish harvest and begin fall fertilizer, tillage, tile work etc, before the ground freezes for the winter generally in early December. This fall has given growers in the region a very large window to complete all field work as well as do many other projects that may have been put off in years past. Our farm was able to complete more land improvement projects and drill more cereal rye as a cover crop on susceptible slopes than any other year. As I sit today, we still have a favorable 10-day forecast which will allow us to continue with land improvement projects that we could not complete in previous years ahead of the freeze.
As November moves into December, we in the cornbelt transition from field work to preparing and planning for the 2021 growing season which includes primarily prepay, input purchasing, and tax prep. I feel I can speak for most farmers in the US Cornbelt when I say that regardless of what my plan for 2021 is, I hope it’s a lot less eventful and more normal than 2020!