DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Late August traditionally allows a moment to draw a breath and reflect on the season and labors.
This year, DTN Farm Advisers aren't assured a respite. Between rollercoaster markets, weather worries and supply chain concerns, it's been a full season of uncertainty. The coming fall appears to be no different as this group of DTN trusted advisers most often used the word "variable" to describe yields as they responded to questions about crop progress and condition during the past week.
When asked what he's learned from the 2022 crop year, Mike Lass, who farms in the Texas Panhandle, summed up what many have come to understand and perhaps even hope for: "No two (crop years) are ever alike. There is no normal year."
Dan Lakey, who farms in southeast Idaho, offered some perspective about how he's trying to cope with uncertain times by "basically changing my attitude and looking for the good things in life rather than some of the bad things that happen to us."
Read on to learn what's happening in various farming regions and some thoughts from DTN Farm Advisers on what they have learned from this erratic season.
Harvest has started for John Kowalchuk in the Canadian province of Alberta. He's already taken off malt barley and yellow field peas.
"Yields are average, and it's been a very hot harvest so far with grain temps over 100 degrees (F) for the most part, so I'm using aeration fans to cool the grain down," Kowalchuk reported on Aug. 23.
Next to be harvested on his farm are canola and wheat. Kowalchuk said if the weather holds, the combines could head for those fields in the next week or so.
His teachable moment for the year so far: "With the potential for high nitrogen costs looming, I purchased next year's requirements already, which is the earliest ever," he said.
Marc Arnusch can attest to the droughty conditions in the west this year and he's concerned that seed wheat could be short and expensive going into fall planting.
"Seed wheat is becoming a unicorn," said Arnusch. "Due to drought a poor crop, it is almost impossible to find." Arnusch Farms has been a certified seed wheat dealer in the past but is exiting that business after this season. Read more about that business decision in DTN's View From the Cab series: https://www.dtnpf.com/….
Still, Arnusch Farms has been working with customers to help them locate seed wheat needs this fall. "Some of our customers are reaching out into Kansas, Oklahoma and Montana for seed and are forced to pay through the nose for it," he said. "Typically seed wheat is $9 to $13 per bushel in eastern Colorado, and I'm hearing some people paying upwards of $25 per bushel, plus trucking, to get it."
Arnusch thinks acres in eastern Colorado will increase if rainfall is timely. "That's a big IF," he said. "The 2 inches of rain we received in late August is disappearing fast, and other parts of the state weren't as fortunate in the rainfall category," he reported.
Wheat stem sawfly is another big concern. "We have very few options genetically to keep the pest at bay. Some are switching to more spring crops (millet, milo, spring barley), while others are incorporating more tillage into their operations to suppress the residue used for overwintering. Some are planting semi-solid and solid stemmed varieties, however there is a significant yield lag with current genetics," he said.
Still, with all these concerns, millers are offering premiums that are hard to ignore and wheat remains a resilient crop. "With our ongoing drought and water-related issues, I anticipate wheat acres in Colorado to climb," Arnusch said.
Dan Lakey is in full harvest mode in southeast Idaho. He started in winter wheat on July 30 -- about 10 to 14 days early for the area. "Yields were good, but late-June/early July heat zapped high-end potential," said Lakey. "Quality is good, but lower-than-expected test weights."
He has finished winter wheat and canola harvest. Spring wheat, flax and mustard were next on the harvest schedule when he reported in on Aug. 24. Barley harvest was expected around the second week of September.
Lakey's area had received some nice moisture in early August, but what came toward the end of the month was less welcome as it was accompanied by a major hail event. "The hail damage was spread across 40 miles of our farm and took out quite a bit of good grain, including several hundred acres of our best irrigated wheat," Lakey said.
"Canola took a big hit too. However, this moisture will give us a good opportunity to get winter crops planted and so we are going full throttle into that," he added. He was finishing up canola seeding and was moving on to planting winter wheat.
That's seven to 10 days earlier than the normal planting date for winter wheat, but he wants to plant as many acres as possible while the moisture holds. The goal is to get a third of the farm's acres in a winter crop -- something the farm has made a priority for the last few years.
In fact, Lakey said he'll often hire a combine operator in order to free himself up to plant. "The winter crops yield so much better than spring here that it is important that we do that," Lakey said.
"I guess one big takeaway or lesson that I'm trying to emphasize for myself this year is to manage my disappointment. Last year was extremely hard on everyone around this area because of the drought and a lot of people took it hard mentally," he said.
"I know that in a dryland climate we are going to face a lot of disappointment during our careers. Learning to manage the disappointment and not dwell on it, look forward to the future and hope for a better next year has been important," he said.
Reid Thompson was able to purchase LP gas at a reasonable level and the east central Illinois farmer plans on using it by firing up the grain dryer this fall. Combines will roll in early corn starting the week of Sept. 12, he figured.
"I'm hoping to see some improved basis by mid-September from the ethanol plant. If we don't, we'll likely haul some (corn) in and shut the bin door for a while," Thompson said.
Thompson participated in the DTN Digital Yield Tour in early August. Yield samples drawn at the time seemed close to expectations, but he's figuring some top end has come off the potential. See that report here: https://www.dtnpf.com/….
"I think our early May corn will be the best and (yields) taper off as the planting date gets closer to mid-May. That said, we plant a lot of full season (115-117 relative maturity). Cool weather and some late rains will keep test weight high," he said.
Pollination was good across his corn acres, but Thompson has noticed more tip back than expected post-pollination. "Kernel counts are still high, but it definitely will reduce the yield," he noted.
Like many farmers, Thompson hesitates to estimate bean yields. Early observation in the early R-growth stages was that pod set was high, Thompson said. But hot weather took a toll on late flowering and then caused pod abortions. He plants full-season beans, so late rains are critical to the final fill. He still sees above-average potential if the season cooperates.
Thompson's 2023 goal is to simplify his cropping system. "We had instances where we had to travel too much to manage different systems. For example, we had two bean fields that were 25 miles away -- one had a cover crop and the other didn't. This caused a management challenge and ate up time driving from the field and back.
"We will look to improve these situations to make the farm more efficient," he said.
In southwest Indiana, Scott Wallis is hoping to start harvest by mid-September. The 167.2-bushel per acre (bpa) national corn yield estimate issued on Aug. 8 by Gro Intelligence during the DTN Digital Yield Tour was an eye-opener and an indication that the west must truly be dry, Wallis said.
"Our crop is going to be about five-year average yields, which is pretty good considering the late plant dates," he said. Wallis was seeing very little of the tip back that has been reported in other parts of the Corn Belt.
The 7 inches of rain in July and 3 inches as of Aug. 23 were feeding his optimism. "We have pulled some ears and they seem to be pollinated well. Yield is so dependent on kernel length and weight," he said.
Beans were also looking good and have plenty of pods, but like many, Wallis holds his yield calculations to corn. Soybeans are so subjective.
This season he's still a bit gobsmacked by the skyrocketing prices for parts. "It applies to new machinery too. I don't know what to do about it or how much to increase the next budget for this cost," he said.
Severe summer drought and heat indexes made for a difficult crop season for Jennie Schmidt, who farms along Maryland's eastern shore. "Dryland corn is done. Ears are already dropping. Dryland beans are struggling," she said on Aug. 24. She expected corn harvest to start in early September.
"I have a grape variety that does not like drought (unlike most other grapes) and have had to drop crop on the ground to save the plants in some sections of that block," she said. "It's been a tough summer in our area because there's been rain. It just seems to go around us."
Schmidt said she's been getting digital "low biomass" alerts, which indicates the crop is drying down earlier than it should. "On the upside, we had a really good green bean harvest -- the benefits of growing a 60-day crop under pivot," she said.
Delayed planting has pushed potential harvest back for Mark Nowak in south central Minnesota. Growing degree unit (GDU) analysis based on forecasts and normal GDU accumulation the rest of September put his corn reaching black layer maturity in very late September. Normal black layer occurs around Sept. 15, he noted.
"I doubt we will have any harvest in September," Nowak reported. Ear tip back is moderate to severe enough that he estimates it could exact a yield hit of 10 to 20 bpa. "Maybe more if the corn doesn't make it to black layer before the first frost, he said.
Nowak also reported soybean pod count being 10% off normal or ideal. He added that pods are just beginning to fill. A bean plant racing to reach maturity based on day length will likely result in smaller beans, which influences final yield. He was estimating bean yields would be down 10 bpa from the previous two years. But he allowed that 2020 and 2021 were very good bean-yielding years in his area.
The take-home for Nowak this year is the importance of planting date. "Planting corn and beans the last 10 days of April is ideal. We started corn this year on May 9 and finished the 16th. Soybean planting started on May 17 and finished on May 22. Thus, the reason for an estimated reduced yield this year.
"It will be a good crop, but definitely below trend," Nowak said.
While there are still some steamy days to come, Kyle Samp can already feel the crop slowing down in north central Missouri. "We're still three weeks away from being able to start shelling corn," Samp said.
Yield checks on corn look promising, but he expected yields to be "extremely variable" in his part of the state. Tip back is showing up, particularly on lighter soils. He blamed the hot and dry stretch endured at the end of July and early August for the missing kernels.
"I'm not sure what to make of our bean crop. Seeing lots of pods, but it seems like there's more two-bean pods than I normally would like to see," Samp wrote in email.
Samp plans to plant a little winter wheat this fall. "It's been long enough since I've grown it, and I'm ready to be hurt again," he quipped.
Proactive planning is his take-home from this season so far. "Until supply chain issues sort out, we just need to keep planning work and supplies out as far as we can," he said.
Meanwhile, in the northwest corner of Missouri, Bob Birdsell was expecting a harvest to be later because of late planting dates. Preharvest yield estimates from his crop scout have pegged the corn yield potential of around 180 bpa or better, given a good finish.
On the bright side, the later planting dates meant corn wasn't pollinating in the middle of the heat that rolled through the area.
"The bean yields will depend on how they finish since the majority were planted later than normal. We didn't finish planting (soybeans) until June 30. I'm hoping for 40 bpa. They made 55 bpa last year," he said.
Weed escapes were troublesome and control options limited since they are non-GMO soybeans. "I wish someone close had one of those electric weed zappers I could rent.
"We had very poor performance out of our preemergence chemicals. Everyone in the area seem to have the same problem, especially in no-till," Birdsell said.
The combine engines typically rev up around Sept. 20 and start in soybeans for Kenny Reinke, who farms in northeastern Nebraska.
It's been a dry year and Reinke said some farmers in his region are chopping dryland corn, trying to salvage what they can through silage. "We were planted somewhat later than average, but the weather has obviously pushed us," Reinke said.
Irrigated corn was showing plenty of potential earlier in the season, but Reinke said the outlook now is "highly variable." "Certain fields are actually on par with last year, but then you walk into some that struggled," he added. He has seen ears tipped back enough that they could knock 30 to 40 bpa off the top of yield potential. The corn pollinated well but aborted the tips trying to save the rest of the ear, he said.
"Price helps, but we have a huge amount of irrigation expense in it (the corn crop), along with fertility. Dryland here is going to be a write-off compared to last year, but it's a small amount of production in my local area," he added.
Reinke said soybeans showed some resiliency this year, branching out to compensate after frost damage took some stand early. Still, it will take stellar yields to measure up to the region's 2021 crop, he observed.
Reinke will have some irrigated wheat production again this year, but he also noted wheat seed cost increases due to market changes. "Dryland (wheat) will have to wait for some kind of moisture to germinate," he said. "It's looking like a very tough fall to get it growing again if we don't get a little help. I can't imagine a worse winter for it than last year, but who knows ..."
Over in east-central Nebraska, Ashley Andersen is thinking droughty conditions might put them in the field by mid-September.
"Our hills are burnt up," she said. A few rains finally found them in late August and that should help soybeans fill. "Our creek bottoms will hopefully bring our yields up," she added.
July was hot, dry and depressing, she confessed. "Three weeks ago, we would have said we weren't going to have anything to harvest," she said. "Coming off the highs of last year, it seems depressing out there."
Andersen farms with her husband, Jarrett. About a month ago, they pulled the trigger and flew on fungicide and insecticides hoping against hope that it would rain, and they would realize a return for the investment. Andersen said they think they've seen positive results.
Variable is the word in this region too, she said. "We had decent rains this spring. Then, we went almost two months without a drop," she said.
"We're seeing some funky-looking ears. During the most important part of pollination, we didn't have the water to get it through.
"It's going to be a tricky harvest," she added. "Some spots we will have small kernels that are really dry. Then if you go down the hill, it'll be higher moisture and more normal size kernels."
It's the same deal with soybeans, Andersen noted. "Some are up to my hip and look good. Others are burnt up," she said.
Going forward to 2023, getting fertilizer and chemicals is weighing on their minds. The amount of inputs resourced outside the country when the world is uneasy is a concern, she said. Getting parts and ordering new equipment is still challenging.
But more than anything, prayers are needed for more moisture and in the right amounts, she said.
Harvest is easily a month or so away for Dan Petker, who farms in southern Ontario. Most of the soybeans should be ready around the second week of October. Corn -- except for short maturities planted for early contract -- won't see a combine until mid-to-late October, he said.
Variable is the word here, too. "Some spots will be lucky to get 120-bushel corn, while others will be running 240 (bpa)," said Petker. "Soil types, along with the heat stress and lack of rain in July, are the key factors."
For many fields the "salvation rain" came too late, he reported. "Soybeans, thankfully, are made in August, and outside of some hail damage they look pretty solid."
Yield checks have shown him once again that earlier plantings should yield best. His primary issue right now is black birds and starlings that are starting to hammer corn fields. Amazingly, depending on variety, these winged pests can extract upwards of 40 bpa yield loss, Petker reported.
Ear tip back is showing up in specific varieties, but Petker isn't sure what to attribute to the loss of kernels. "We see it every year, but certain maturities seem worse this year compared to previous years," he said. He noted that more southernly Ontario fields are having more issues due to the extended heat and drought they experienced.
While not a significant wheat growing area, Petker is seeing more winter wheat intentions this year. "Most of the reasoning is due to Canada's continuation of the 30% tariff on UAN/urea sourced from either Russia and Belarus, which are both Canada's primary sources of nitrogen," he said. High prices and potential difficulties of getting product for next year's corn crop are top of mind for many farmers, he added.
The primary lesson this year, which Petker admitted is reinforced every year, is balancing patience and the desire to get things done. "The fields where we rushed to beat the rain have shown themselves all year," he observed.
Mike Lass is thankful the skies finally offered some liquid hope in August. "Too late to be of any help to the dryland spring crops, but (the precipitation) will help finish up the irrigated stuff that's remaining -- plus grow some grass for us cow guys," said Lass.
Lass, who farms in the Llano Estacado region of the Texas Panhandle, is no stranger to dry conditions, but this drought has been prolonged and brutal. "There isn't much crop out here this year," Lass reported. "I would say that production of any crop is somewhere around 25% of normal. Lots of bare ground for sure."
When you endure this kind of drought, hope lies in the belief that no two years are ever alike.
Pamela Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
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