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Soil health spotlight: Summer crop conditions

Read Time: 8 minutes

By The Cargill RegenConnect Team June 27, 2024

Discover the successful practices and unique challenges growers are facing during this planting season.

Variability in weather and soil conditions across the United States has made for some interesting planting conditions. Our Conservation Agronomists are sharing insight into the crop progress and conditions they are seeing across the regions. Hopefully you can take home some valuable learnings as we head into July.

Kentucky and the Southern Delta regions (MS, AR)

Western Kentucky experienced historic amounts of precipitation in May 2024, with records indicating this month was the second wettest May in 130 years (University of Kentucky Ag Weather Update, 2024). Current challenges growers in this area are experiencing include replanting due to flooding and deciding which acres will be considered prevented planting due to the wet spring.

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Figure 1. Flooded fields in April and May (left) led to uneven corn and soybean stands that must be replanted (right) near Dundee in western Kentucky. Photos courtesy Cargill RegenConnect grower, Darren Luttrell.

Despite precipitation averages having been ranked at the sixth wettest May on record, cover crops like cereal rye, planted in the northeastern part of the state, made it easier to get into fields that would otherwise of been too muddy to plant without a winter cover. Many growers in this area are looking to skip one round of herbicide application to take advantage of early season weed control from cereal rye residue.

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Figure 2. Soybeans growing in residue from a cereal rye cover crop near Maysville, KY in northeastern Kentucky. Photo courtesy Cargill RegenConnect grower Paul Jackson.

In the southern Mississippi Delta, corn, rice, soybeans, and cotton were largely planted on time however, wet weather in the lower Louisiana delta delayed planting in that area. Decreased corn prices have incentivized growers to substitute those acres with cotton. Cover crop planting is on the rise in the Delta, with growers increasingly utilizing Farm Bill conservation programs.

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Figure 3. A cover crop mix of crimson clover, cereal rye, rapeseed, and daikon radish was planted after soybeans before cotton planting in May near Newport, Arkansas. Photo courtesy Cargill RegenConnect grower Keith Scoggins.

Northern Midwest region (ND, SD, MN, WI)

Conditions in the northern Midwest have been extreme. Due to areas of D4 drought in April and historic rainfall through May and June, many acres have been planted late, replanted, or abandoned for prevent plant. Although planting conditions have been severe, most acres are in the ground. Growers who are using cover crops and reduced tillage practices are seeing good results this year for several reasons:

  • Cover crops had a warm fall and spring to grow large, allowing them to take up excess moisture from the soil. We've also seen that growers who terminated later in the season had more success than those who terminated very early.
  • Cover crops that did not have either crop oil or other surfactant had challenges terminating in the cool spring, opposite of what we witnessed in the 2023 growing season.
  • Reduced tillage systems, especially strip tillage, are getting the best of both worlds this year with drier planting zones and undisturbed soil structure where soil stability was needed for trafficability.

We had one Minnesota grower who seeded his cover crop at the same time as the strips were being made, tubing the cover crop between the strip till units and keeping the seed out of the planting strip. This allowed for a clean strip with the benefits of cover crops in between.

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Figure 4. (Left) cover crops in a strip tillage system. Image taken May 7, 2024. (Right) terminated cover crops in a strip tillage system with standing corn. Image taken June 12, 2024. Both photos courtesy of Anna Teeter, shared by a central MN farmer.

Midwest region (OH, IN, MI, IL)

Plant 2024 for the Midwest was extremely variable. On the one hand, many areas throughout Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan struggled to get into  fields early this year due to excessive moisture. On the other hand, there were also many fields that were the exact opposite and were able to be planted early or on time.

Cover cropped fields are holding residue and soil well, working exactly as we need them to after an early, wet spring. The cooler conditions, however, were ripe for slugs so we’ve been seeing slug pressure in a lot of acres on both cover crop ground and ground not covered. Again, there’s quite a bit of variability on this as some farmers reported not enough pressure to cause issue, some needing to use bait, and some waiting to plant until the ground dried up more. This occurrence doesn’t happen every year, but it’s important to make sure you’re scouting fields to catch any issues early. 

Most of the covered fields we’ve been seeing have allowed growers to get on the fields sooner than those without covers. The cover crop roots act as springs to hold up the heavy planting equipment. Due to inclement weather, many cover crop fields had to be planted green and then sprayed to prevent a wet mat of cover residue but this ended up working to our benefit to hold moisture as the weather has turned to the other extreme in many regions. With the sporadic planting times, we have different vegetative states across the Midwest. For the most part, the crops look good for now.

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Figure 5. Central Indiana corn spiking through heavy cereal rye on much ground. Planted late May, picture taken June 4 courtesy Conservation Agronomist.

Commodity specific conditions:

  • Soybeans

Soybeans like drier feet in the beginning. Depending on location, beans were planted early, or slightly late. Beans are a bit more forgiving with a lack of early moisture and look good moving into reproductive stage. We’ll want to catch the rains through reproductive stages to fill those pods.

  • Corn

We’re starting to see drought stress with corn on lighter ground and areas that haven’t seen much rain in the last couple of weeks, apart from the north where they mostly continue to get moisture. Our Midwest cover crop fields are looking great, holding on to the moisture. Purdue’s retired Bob Nielson reported in the past that after V10, corn usually only needs 50 GDD (Good Degree Days) to add a new leaf. We’re holding with the extreme temps, but most of the Midwest could use a good slow soaker rain event as tasseling is just around the corner.

West region (MO, KS, NE, IA)

Planting progress though our western states was also very variable. There was a small window of favorable weather early in the spring where many acres of corn got into the ground. In some areas, these acres were susceptible to the heavy rains and saturated conditions that soon followed, requiring many acres of replant. In parts of central Iowa, these acres have begun to experience rapid growth and improved plant health with the moisture and heat units that have come this June. Overall, there is a lot of variability between crop stages in both corn and soybeans depending on when the crop was planted. Many growers in the area report that their later planted crop is progressing much healthier and more uniform than the crop that was planted earlier in the spring.

In western Iowa and eastern Nebraska, excessive rainfall recently has hundreds of acres at risk of flood damage. These areas have been facing severe drought for the past several seasons and have recently received double digit rainfall totals within a period of twenty-four hours. Heavy rainfall from further north has been adding to this problem making its way south pushing out of the banks of many of the large and small river systems.

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Figure 6. Images courtesy Cargill RegenConnect grower Kody Beebe (Missouri Valley, IA).

Areas outside of flood risk are seeing mixed results from the wetter spring. Some growers have experienced washing from the heavy precipitation, while others have appreciated the break from a drought and enjoy seeing the healthy crop off to a strong start.

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Figure 7. (Left) Cargill RegenConnect grower, Dan Thielen (Bennington, NE) has had over 24 inches of rain this year, with over seven inches in just one week on this farm. This farm saw no erosion due to the residue and root masses left over from this year's cover crop. (Right) Dan also has seen a strong and uniform emergence across his farm, where beans are now pushing through his cover crop that has done a lot of work this spring in both weed suppression and moisture retention.

Today's draught monitor:

June 2024 summer radar

Figure 8. Image courtesy Google Drought Monitor