Column: US Corn Conditions a Bit Worse Than Normal Ahead of Another Dry Week

Jun 01, 2023

 By Karen Braun

U.S. corn is in decent shape early in the growing season, but initial health conditions suggest the crop still must prove itself, especially given the dry forecast ahead.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s statistics agency on Tuesday placed 69% of U.S. corn in good-to-excellent (GE) condition as of Sunday, the first corn ratings of the season and below market expectations for 71%.

That is the lowest initial corn rating since 59% GE in 2019 and below the five-year average of 71%. The timing of initial corn conditions depends on emergence and has spanned May 24 to June 9 in the latest five years.

Since crop conditions began in 1986, all but one of the strong U.S. corn yields coincided with initial ratings above 70% GE. The exception is 2017, when the initial 65% did not foretell the eventual record result, and ratings never got materially better as the summer progressed.

Higher crop ratings have not always led to success. Recent dry conditions have sparked comparisons with the 2012 drought year, and although corn started at 77% GE that year, extreme heat and dryness cut yields by a quarter.

Corn was still 63% GE by mid-June 2012, but that turned into 31% one month later. The highest-ever initial corn rating of 81% in 1991 preceded a very poor crop as the critical months of July and August were much too dry.

Drought in the western Corn Belt clipped yields last year despite the start at 73% GE, and 2021’s record yield began with a score of 76%. This year’s conditions may decline next week given the warm and dry weather expected for this week, but a possible pattern shift in mid-June could bring some game-changing relief.

As of Sunday, corn in Iowa was 77% GE, Illinois 69%, Indiana 72% and Nebraska 62%. Those are all below the initial 2022 scores, which were issued one week later than this year. Nebraska and Illinois are 13 and 12 percentage points below last year’s initial numbers, respectively.

However, Minnesota at 80% GE is 20 points ahead of last year and Ohio’s 81% is up 11 points.

U.S. corn was 72% emerged as of Sunday, ahead of the date’s five-year average of 63%. Individually, emergence is ahead of the recent average in all major states but North Dakota at 19%, behind the 27% average but ahead of the year-ago 6%.

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