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2021 US Crop Season Review

Steve Doench, Head of Sustainable Agronomy
Steve Doench, Technical Sales Agronomist

The 2021 US crop season saw a return to profitable farming with higher commodity prices. COVID-19 continued to cause macro-economic issues globally and disrupted supply chains in numerous ways that will have a more direct effect on the 2022 crop season. 

A decent planting season due to dryer conditions since the dry fall of 2020 eventually led to an increase in drought conditions across the corn belt.  Some timely rains in July and August helped rescue yields in the western corn belt, while a poor finish to the crop season reduced yields in the eastern corn belt. 

After a good start to harvest, a period of wetter conditions slowed down progress but also provided help in replenishing soil moisture reserves.  As harvest wrapped up farmers were facing an unprecedented increase in crop production input costs and availability issues going into the 2022 crop season.

The 2022 US crop season still does look profitable for farmers as commodity prices have rebounded since harvest and La Nina dryness in South America is adding expectations for reduced corn and soybean production tightening global supplies. Supply chain challenges will continue to cause availability issues and increased input costs.

Conventional wisdom would say that with higher-priced inputs and potential shortages of some inputs that yields will be penalized even before the crop is planted.  That theory is being tested in South America currently and will be on display in other parts of the world as input shortages and price spikes are not just a US problem.  US farmers typically do not sacrifice yield on purpose and unless shortages truly make some inputs unavailable, the effect on overall yields being lowered is not a guarantee.  

There will likely be some reduced fertilizer applications and some pest control issues potentially adding downside risk to 2022 yields, but for now, US farmers will likely still look to achieve high yields to maximize the high commodity prices available for the upcoming season.  The corn vs. soybean acreage war will be especially interesting as soybeans don’t need expensive nitrogen fertilizer and can be planted if nitrogen is not available, replacing corn area.  Soybeans are easier to secure operating loans for with lower costs per acre, but the corn market price gains are currently outpacing soybeans and seem more bullish for 2022.

Percent of Normal Precipitation

The images below show the precipitation over the course of the 2021 season.

Data from Unites States Department of Agriculture.  https://www.nass.usda.gov/

The drought has not been fully resolved either, soils are not fully saturated going into winter and lots of fieldwork was completed in the fall so at this point the expectation for a good start to planting is valid.  Planting season price ratios have worked in 2021 to help favor corn acres, while in 2022 a mix of input availability and price ratios will make actual plantings less certain as planting starts.  Weather is always a huge factor. Late thaw with a heavy March snowpack and a cool wet spring can certainly change things towards favoring soybeans or a warm dry spring can favor corn from a farm operations standpoint.

Even though the 2021 US crop season saw a return to profitable farming with higher commodity prices, COVID-19 continued to cause macro-economic issues globally and disrupted supply chains in numerous ways that will have a more direct effect on the 2022 crop season. So as spring approaches the main theme would appear to be the uncertainty of what will get planted and how commodity markets react to expectations for more soybeans over corn due to nitrogen fertilizer supply challenges.

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Preseason Economics

Ahead of planting the 2021 crop, the economics looked very good for US corn and soybeans.

Planting Season

The dry 2020 fall and winter caused some challenges int he beginning of the season.

Summer Crop Season

As planting was completed and early season crop conditions were the focus, drought conditions grew.

Initial Production Outlook

The market faced some surprises based on earlier predictions.

Challenges

2021 provided not only weather challenges but also COVID-19 pandemic continued to affect supplies.

Harvest

Yield expectations and international influences affected the results.

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