OMAHA (DTN) — Thanks to relatively cool weather across the Midwest, the U.S. soybean crop is in excellent condition.
The cool trend is expected to continue until early September, and a developing El Nino could bring beneficial late-summer rain.
That leaves a possible early frost as the main threat to potential record yields of 45 bushels per acre.
Soybeans have very strong condition ratings. More than two-thirds of the U.S. soybean crop rated good to excellent in the USDA crop progress and condition report July 27.
Ahead of USDA’s official crop production estimate August 12, crop- production models — which place emphasis on condition ratings — suggest soybean yields could be as high as almost 45 bpa nationally.
DTN meteorologist Mike Palmerino is optimistic the cool trend will continue and oppressive hot weather won’t threaten soybeans during pod-filling. "The persistence of this year’s weather pattern is such that the idea of a significant change is more of a long shot," he said.
COOL WEATHER IS TWO-EDGED SWORD
The cool weather is a two-edged sword. It’s also why soybeans, while in good condition, has slower-than-average growth. Just 63 percent of the U.S. bean acreage was flowering as of July 27 — 13 percentage points behind average.
The second-largest soybean producer, Illinois, had a flowering rate of only 46 percent — 35 points behind average. Indiana’s flowering rate of 51 percent was 20 percentage points less than its average 71 percent figure. Missouri’s flowering rate, 43 percent, trailed the average by 13 points. Minnesota’s soybeans were only 63 percent flowered, compared with its average 81 percent pace. Of the largest soybean-production states, only Iowa and Nebraska were close to average on flowering. Iowa’s 81 percent flowering rate was three points behind average; Nebraska’s 75 percent pace lagged its 77 percent average by two percentage points.
That slow progress is one reason Palmerino says he’s "a bit cautious on soybeans" for August. "One thing that concerns me is the prospect of an early freeze. The pattern we are in certainly has that potential."
Soybeans have less tolerance for cold snaps than corn. In the northern states, Minnesota and North Dakota’s slow flowering pace is only 57 percent, compared with an average of 84 percent.
"It looks more and more — even despite the way the northern Corn Belt got going with planting — that more and more of the (northern) crop is going to be vulnerable to a freeze in September," said Palmerino. "The most likely time would be in the last week or two of September."
EL NINO COULD HELP
A developing weak El Nino temperature and barometric pressure regime in the Pacific Ocean may help the soybean crop. With El Nino, the equatorial Pacific sea surface temperatures are warmer than normal. Also, the El Nino trade-winds sustain a west-to-east flow pattern from the Pacific toward the Western Hemisphere.
"There is some potential that this beginning El Nino may help to suppress tropical storm activity in the Gulf of Mexico," Palmerino said. "And, if tropical systems are curtailed, you actually free up moisture to flow northward from the Gulf into the interior U.S. This could enhance the late summer rainfall, which would be very timely for soybeans."
Palmerino believes the chances are heavily weighted in favor of a large soybean crop.
"It’s hard to come up with any real crop issues," Palmerino said. "An early freeze looks like the only thing that would limit soybean yields from being quite large or possibly even in a record category."
EL NINO AFFECTING OTHER COUNTRIES
Palmerino also plans to closely monitor El Nino’s effects on the Argentina soybean crop, which was decimated by drought in 2008-09.
"Later in the year, as El Nino reaches a mature phase, we could see more rain over the Argentina soybean belt, and this would offer an improvement in their soil moisture prospects for next year’s soybean crop," Palmerino said.
DTN Ag Meteorologist Joel Burgio, who follows weather in China and India, said China may have some potential problems going into late summer.
"China’s highest-production soybean area is in Heilongjiang province, in the far northeast — formerly known as Manchuria," said Burgio. "Producers there have had pretty good weather conditions all year. But early August could bring on some drier weather, and this will bear watching. I’m looking for rain to fall in narrow bands. Thus, some areas will get hurt, and we could very well see this in the northeast."
In southern Asia, India’s monsoon season had a slow and wobbly beginning that threatened to reduce the country’s soybean and groundnut crop production. However, midsummer improved monsoon activity, and Burgio looks for this trend to continue.
"The last part of July has seen the monsoon become more active in the major oilseed provinces," Burgio said. "Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat provinces have all taken in some heavy rains, and crops are doing well. Most of the soybeans and a significant percentage of the groundnut crops should be in good shape heading into the last part of the crop year."