Weather caused entire season to shift, resulted in ‘most challenging year' for farmers

John Roach
In this photo taken Nov. 12, 2019 photo, cattle and soybean farmer Bob Grove stands in the door of a barn on his farm in Caledonia, Wisconsin. He says the early cold and snow makes life harder all around, for him and for the animals. He still has soybeans in the field that can't be harvested because the snow will clog the machinery. (AP Photo/Carrie Antlfinger)

The story of the weather's impact on the 2019 growing season and crop production in the United States is not a mystery. Early excessive rain and the resultant flooding caused delays and put fields under water throughout much of the planting season, leaving farmers playing catch-up.

"The whole season was shifted," said AccuWeather Founder and CEO Dr. Joel N. Myers. "For most places, planting started late because of the floods and the excessive rain, and because it was late, at the end the yields were reduced because it was a shorter season. Of course, when you have to wait longer to harvest, you're running into snow and into freezing temperatures that will kill any further growth."

Even the government had to push its deadlines. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) last Crop Progress report was scheduled to be issued Nov. 25, but the report noted "due to delays in harvest progress, the weekly National Crop Progress report will be extended. The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) will evaluate harvest progress for all crops each week to determine how long to continue the report."

"It's kind of been a domino effect the whole year," Krista Swanson, an Oneida, Illinois, farmer, told AccuWeather. "It started out with excessive moisture in the spring that kind of pushed us back and now we're trying to harvest in mid-November in the snow. It's just been a challenge all around ... It seems like this year just keeps throwing curveballs at us with the weather."

AccuWeather meteorologists recognized the potential for trouble at the outset of the season and its early-season crop estimates reflected this concern -- and also proved prescient.

AccuWeather's original prediction for corn production was only off by 0.5 percent, while the USDA's original estimate was off by 9.1 percent. AccuWeather predicted a yield of 13.6 billion bushels on May 30, and its final estimate on Dec. 2 is 13.528 billion bushels. The USDA predicted corn production to be 15.03 billion bushels on May 10; its most recent estimate on Nov. 8 was 13.661 billion bushels.

"For corn, AccuWeather's estimates for production have been consistently below the USDA estimates from May until now," said Myers. "Our more precise predictions helped farmers and the industry during the difficult season."

"For soybeans, we were way below the USDA estimates from May until early July, and since then, we've both been trending lower together," Myers said. "Weather was such a factor in 2019, so our expertise clearly provided more value to those in the industry, particularly early. Importantly, in the first two-and-a-half months of the growing season, AccuWeather's predictions were far more accurate than the USDA. Dramatically."

AccuWeather's predicted production for soybeans was 4.001 billion bushels on May 30; its final estimate on Dec. 2 is 3.572 billion bushels, a decrease of 10.7 percent.

The USDA's predicted soybean production was 4.150 billion bushels on May 10; its most recent estimate on Nov. 8 was 3.550 billion bushels, a decrease of 14.4 percent.

Corn production was 14.420 billion bushels in 2018; 2019 could be the lowest since 2015 (13.601 billion bushels) or 2012 (10.755 billion bushels), depending on the final total. Soybean production was 4.543 billion bushels in 2018; 2019 could be the lowest since 2013 (3.357 billion bushels). The NASS Annual Crop Production Summary for 2019 will be issued Jan. 10, 2020.

The latest USDA Crop Progress report shows the 2019 corn harvest in 18 key corn-producing states is still behind the five-year average from 2014-2018 of 98 percent, with just 89 percent harvested so far. The 2019 soybean harvest is almost complete, with 96 percent harvested in 18 key soybean-producing states compared to the national five-year average of 99 percent.

AccuWeather meteorologists are forecasting mostly dry and milder weather the rest of the week across the northern Plains and Upper Midwest. Snowcovered fields have delayed the harvest in some areas. Areas from Michigan through Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Dakotas are behind normal for the corn harvest. However, this weather pattern should favor harvest efforts, according to AccuWeather meteorologists. It will turn colder again early next week with light to moderate snowfall of 2 to 4 inches over the northwestern corner of the Midwest corn and soybean belt.

"This has been the most challenging year in my farming career of about 30 years," Billie Danner, a farmer in West Liberty, Iowa, told AccuWeather.