Snow on corn

Snow fell on corn waiting to be harvested in Central Iowa Oct. 29.

The last week of October brought snow to some parts of northern Missouri, parts of Illinois and across Iowa, along with generally cold temperatures and wet weather across the Midwest, hampering harvest efforts.

“October has the distinction of being the earliest month in Missouri to witness snowstorms,” said Pat Guinan, University of Missouri state climatologist.

Snow in October is rare for Missouri, but last year parts of northwest Missouri received snow on Oct. 15, one of the earliest snows the state has seen. Guinan said that according to weather observers, St. Joseph received 1.5 inches in last year’s October snow, King City had 1.1 inches, and several other locations saw between a tenth of an inch to an inch of snow.

Guinan said there are not a lot of weather stations in Missouri with continuous daily snowfall records that go back more than 100 years, but four locations have reliable long-term records of the earliest snowfall of the winter. Guinan said measurable snowfall is defined as a tenth of an inch or more.

According to the USDA’s Missouri Crop Progress and Condition report released Oct. 28, Missouri’s corn harvested was at 64%, down from the five-year average of 84%. Missouri’s soybeans harvested was at 43%, down from the five-year average of 58% at this point.

In Iowa, 26% of the corn crop had been harvested for grain, eight days behind last year and 11 days behind average. Sixty-six percent of soybeans had been harvested, equal to last year but six days behind average.

And in Illinois, corn harvested for grain was at 54%, compared to 88% last year and 80% for the five-year average. Soybean harvest was 69% complete, compared to 84% last year and 82% for the five-year average.

Guinan said while October snow is rare, Missouri has seen some memorable autumn snow events, including in more recent times.

“One of note, in recent history, was a major snow event on Oct. 22 and 23, 1996, when portions of northwestern and west central Missouri reported 3 to 9 inches of snow,” he said. “Heavy, wet snow fell on trees that were in leaf, leading to numerous downed branches and power lines. The Kansas City area reported 130,000 residences without power and $1.5 million in property damage due to the storm.”

Missouri’s October single-day snowfall record is a tie. Rolla, in Phelps County, had 11.5 inches of snow on Oct. 27, 1913. Fairfax, in northwest Missouri’s Atchison County, also received 11.5 inches, with that staggering snowfall coming on Oct. 23, 1996, as part of that famous snowstorm.

Charles Hurburgh, an ag engineer with Iowa State University, said snow can cause problems during harvest.

“Snow’s never good,” he said. “It’s hard to harvest with snow.”

Hurburgh, who operates his family farm in Iowa, said the inconvenience is only temporary.

“Chances are, if we get snow this time of year, it won’t be around long,” he said.

Cool, dry weather is good for keeping grain dried and avoiding mold damage in fields, Hurburgh said. It’s when the cold weather includes precipitation that it causes problems for crops and harvest.

Bob Garino, Missouri’s state statistician for the USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Service, said this year’s later-maturing crops compound the problem.

“Our stages of maturity have been later, from one to two weeks later,” he said.

Crops took longer to get ready to be harvested, meaning weather delays like snow put harvest progress further behind.

Last year was an extremely challenging harvest.

“Last year we had some fields that never did get harvested,” Garino said.

He said one of the key aspects of the weekly USDA Crop Progress and Condition reports is the “days suitable for field work” category.

“We’ve had some weeks at one to two days a week (suitable for field work),” Garino said.

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Ben Herrold is Missouri field editor, writing for Missouri Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.