By Gary Wulf

BridgeNews Service

KANSAS CITY (B)--The end is in sight for America's annual rite of fall harvest, according to figures posted Oct. 23 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The agency reported 78% of all cornfields had been picked entering the week, which compares with the seasonal norm of just 58%. Soybean picking is ahead of schedule also, pegged at 84% complete nationwide. Recent rains have improved winter wheat development, although overall emergence remains slow.

Harvest progress continues to progress far more quickly in western corn belt states than those on the opposite end of the Midwest, where rains were much more plentiful throughout the growing season.

"If the weather holds this week again, you will see a big chunk of it (the corn crop) taken out," southeast Minnesota agronomist Lisa Behnken told the Rochester Post-Bulletin. Overall, 85% of the Minnesota corn crop had been picked as of Sunday, which is 11 days ahead of schedule.

Grain is coming from the field abnormally dry as well, with an average moisture content of just 16%, which compares with the five-year average of 20%.

Behnken said most farmers are allowing corn to dry down naturally in the field, rather than incurring the extra expense of mechanical drying operations.

"Why spend money to put it in a dryer?" she said. "The weather is not threatening."

Dry weather also allowed farmers in Iowa--the largest U.S. corn-producing state--to make excellent strides in fall harvest recently as well, pushing corn picking to 91% complete, which is 36 percentage points ahead of normal.

"Harvest is pretty close to completely done around here," said an eastern Iowa grain buyer.

Combining operations are actually behind schedule in places like Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, though, as farmers continue to battle muddy fields and wet grain. The weekly crop-weather update from the Ohio Department of Agriculture said "harvest has been delayed in the north-central district due to wet conditions and high humidity. Frost damage in several areas has lowered yield expectations and further delayed crop maturity."

One Ohio grain merchant said of harvest, "It's been a slow-go."

Growers in Michigan are feeling the most time pressure, with only 52% of their soybeans picked at a time when 70% of the crop is normally in the bin. Grain sorghum harvest is nearly finished, with 90% of the U.S. crop gleaned, which compares with the seasonal average of just 67%.

The start of the annual production cycle for winter wheat remains behind targeted norms, though, with only 75% of all acreage planted and only about four out of 10 fields emerged. Sixty-four percent of all acreage is usually up and actively growing by late October.

However, grain merchandisers expect the crop to catch up quickly, following widespread recent rains in the Plains.

"It should really take off now that we have gotten this last rain," said a Texas grain dealer.

State Reports:

--Iowa: Fall harvest is nearly complete in the western half of the state. Corn and soybean picking has progressed one to two weeks ahead of schedule.

--Kansas: Winter wheat seedings jumped ahead 15 percentage points from last week, but plantings still lag last year at just 84% complete.

--Missouri: Corn picking--at 94% complete--is progressing four weeks ahead of schedule.

--Nebraska: Above--normal temperatures and clear conditions during much of the week allowed harvest to continue well ahead of average, with many producers done harvesting for the year. Corn, sorghum and soybean harvest is 88% to 93% complete, statewide.

--North Dakota: The nice weather allowed corn and sunflower harvests to progress 23% and 28%, respectively. Sunflower harvest, at 59% complete, was slightly ahead of schedule.

--Oklahoma: wheat emergence progressed rapidly after the rainfall during the weekend of Oct. 14, 15. The large amounts of rainfall received this past weekend will further accelerate the wheat emergence progress; however, some replanting may be needed. Small grain planting also should progress significantly, once producers can get into their fields.

--South Dakota: Temperatures were seven to 13 degrees above normal last week, further depleting topsoil moisture supplies. Soil tillage is difficult as a result, although fall harvest is progressing rapidly.

--Texas: Heavy rains of five to six inches fell in some areas recently. Planting of wheat and oats continued, but slowed as conditions became too wet to plant. Emergence in earlier-planted fields was enhanced by increased soil moisture levels.

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