Farmer Woes: 2019 Corn Harvest Tremendous Struggle for Some

(December 2, 2019) — With a significant amount of corn still in the fields of the U.S. Northern Plains in mid-November, the harvest nonetheless threatened to stall, MarketsFarm analyst Bruce Burnett told the agriculture news publication Western Producer. Burnett noted the corn harvest was being slowed in some cases by propane transportation constraints that in turn caused issues for farmers trying to quickly acquire fuel for their grain dryers.

With high crop moisture levels, agricultural producers were struggling to dry their corn before storing it. Further complicating matters was space heating demand in the Midwest competing for gallons—for households and livestock. Due to transportation limitations, temporary supply tightness emerged, although U.S. propane inventories on the whole remained robust, including in the Midwest. Nonetheless, tremendous pressure on suppliers to find enough prompt propane to go around resulted, with several states providing hours of service waivers to help boost fuel availability.

At the same time, snow and cold temperatures were adding to harvest delays. North Dakota was the farthest behind of the major corn-growing states. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) weekly Crop Progress report noted that state farmers were only 15% into their corn harvest as of Nov. 10. While that was a gain of five points from the previous week, it was a quarter of the pace year to year and a whopping 61 points behind the five-year average.

Going into November, USDA projected North Dakota farmers to harvest just over 3.3 million acres of corn and produce nearly 12 million tons. That is likely to change with future supply and demand reports. In other states, Wisconsin was 30% through its corn harvest, while Michigan was at 33% and South Dakota 39%. The progress in those three states was at least half or farther behind their respective five-year averages.

The national pace was at 66% complete, which was a gain of 14 points from the prior week. However, at the same time a year earlier the corn harvest stood at 83% finished, which lagged the average by only 2%. Burnett commented that U.S. farmers still had about 117 million tons left to harvest.

(SOURCE: The Weekly Propane Newsletter, Nov. 25, 2019. Available by subscription)